GIRL IN THE BLUE COAT by Monica Hesse Book Review
Publication Date: April 5th 2016 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Rating: – Exceeds Expectations
Book Summary: An unforgettable story of bravery, grief, and love in impossible times
The missing girl is Jewish. I need you to find her before the Nazis do.
Amsterdam, 1943. Hanneke spends her days procuring and delivering sought-after black market goods to paying customers, her nights hiding the true nature of her work from her concerned parents, and every waking moment mourning her boyfriend, who was killed on the Dutch front lines when the Germans invaded. She likes to think of her illegal work as a small act of rebellion.
On a routine delivery, a client asks Hanneke for help. Expecting to hear that Mrs. Janssen wants meat or kerosene, Hanneke is shocked by the older woman’s frantic plea to find a person—a Jewish teenager Mrs. Janssen had been hiding, who has vanished without a trace from a secret room. Hanneke initially wants nothing to do with such dangerous work, but is ultimately drawn into a web of mysteries and stunning revelations that lead her into the heart of the resistance, open her eyes to the horrors of the Nazi war machine, and compel her to take desperate action.
Meticulously researched, intricately plotted, and beautifully written, Girl in the Blue Coat is an extraordinary, gripping novel from a bright new voice in historical fiction.
Book Review Overview:
- Just another World War II book? NO!
- I loved Hanneke because she’s a flawed protagonist
- I learned new things about WWII and the Holocaust!
I was in the middle of a reading slump when I picked up GIRL IN THE BLUE COAT by Monica Hesse. To be honest, I was a bit skeptical at first since this book was compared to Number the Stars. I don’t take comparisons to what I deem as a classic very lightly. But from the very first page, I already knew I was going to enjoy Girl in the Blue Coat immensely.
My immediate reaction when I encounter a World War II-era book is usually it’s just another Holocaust book. But Girl in the Blue Coat is much more than that. Hanneke, the protagonist, is a black market dealer of hard-to-find goods in a Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. At first glance, she works as a secretary at a funeral parlor, but her main source of income is through finding and delivering black market goods such as make-up, cigarettes, and extra food rations.
During a routine delivery, Mrs. Jansse—a regular customer—frantically pleas Hanneke to help her find a person. Mrs. Jansee had been hiding a Jewish teenager in a secret cupboard, but she has suddenly vanished. Hanneke reluctantly agrees to the impossible task, and she ultimately gets drawn into a web of dangerous secrets in the resistance efforts of the war.
I had an immediate liking for Hanneke because her character is flawed. With her flaxen features and skills in flirtation, Hanneke is able to divert the Nazi’s attentions from her illicit activities. But Hanneke deals in the black market for purely selfish reasons: for her family’s survival. As the sole breadwinner of the family, Hanneke cannot afford to care for her customer’s views on the war, as long as they can pay. Hanneke is so narrow-minded and naive for the majority of the book. For the sake of survival, she has been failing to see all the atrocities that is happening right in her own city.
One of the things I loved about this book is how I learned new things about the Holocaust such as youth resistance movement and the Underground Camera. Many events in the book were inspired by real life heroes. The resistance movement in the novel was inspired by the Amsterdam Student Group—university students who orchestrated the smuggling of Jewish children away from the Nazis. I learned about the resistance network of photographers who risked their lives to capture secret photographs of soldiers and civilians. This group included clever women who hid cameras inside purses and handbags.
The pacing of the plot had me on the edge of my seat. I encountered so many plot twists that I didn’t see coming as I put together what happened to Amalia. I loved how all the pieces fell into place at the very end. I love books that are a bit unpredictable and have me guessing until the last page.
It’s been a long time since I’ve reviewed a book prior to its release date. But after reading GIRL IN THE BLUE COAT, I wanted to spread the word as much as possible. This book is a must-read, especially for those who love historical fiction!
About the Author
Monica Hesse is a feature writer for the Washington Post, where she has covered royal weddings, dog shows, political campaigns, Academy Awards ceremonies, White House state dinners, and some events that felt like a mixture of all of the above. Monica hosts a weekly Washington Post chat, Web Hostess, and she lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband and a brainiac dog.
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