Monday, March 21, 2016

ARC Review: Girl in the Blue Coat

Title: Girl in the Blue Coat
Author: Monica Hesse
Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: April 5, 2016
Source: ARC from Publisher for Review

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.

My Review

Remarkably written and poignant, Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse is YA historical fiction at its finest. Set in one of history's most devastating time periods - The Holocaust - this novel is sure to take readers on an emotional and heartbreaking ride that they won't soon forget.

Hanneke, a young girl from Amsterdam, works for a funeral director. When she's not in helping with funeral arrangements, her boss has her working the black market. She can often be found bicycling the streets of Amsterdam, delivering hard-to-find and illegal goods and groceries to some of the city's wealthiest and desperate citizens. She never expects that one of her customers will ask her to complete a dangerous and deadly mission - to find a missing Jewish teenager in the middle of the Holocaust when deportations are happening left and right.

Sometimes, all the pieces of a book fall into place perfectly, and that is what has happened with Monica Hesse's Girl in the Blue Coat. This utterly devastating novel grabbed me from the very first page. I was completely immersed in all of the different storylines that kept building and building on one another. I loved seeing how Ms. Hesse weaved so many different events and personal storylines together until they finally meet up in the end with results that will make even a person with a frozen heart cry like a little baby. The plot of this novel is exciting, thrilling, and scary, but at its core, it's a wonderful story about the complexity of love, hate, jealousy, and friendship.

Ms. Hesse includes many different characters in Girl in the Blue Coat, and because of that, I believe this novel will appeal to readers from many different walks of life. Yes, the central group of characters are teenagers and young adults, but there are many different supporting characters of all different ages. I loved watching all of these characters interact and depend on one another. When you consider the time and setting, it makes so much sense. People were desperate during World War II. They needed answers, but mostly, they needed each other. They needed to cling to one another for love and hope.

The book's narrator, Hanneke, is just your average teenager from Amsterdam. She used to go to school and hang out with her friends and boyfriend. Her life has been changed because of World War II. Her best friend is no longer in the picture, and her boyfriend was killed in battle. On top of all of that, she is the provider for her family. Instead of depending on her parents like most of her peers, she must be the provider for her family. That's led her to a job with a funeral director - a job that she must lie about to keep from getting in trouble with the Gestapo. Even though the book only takes place during the course of about a week, readers will be able to see growth and maturity in Hanneke.

During the novel, Hanneke is reunited with her boyfriend's brother, Ollie, and he questions her about some of the things she's been doing. Eventually she tells him about her mission, and he hopes that she'll join the resistance and help him and his friends fight the Gestapo from the underground. Although Hanneke doesn't decide what to do right away, she uses Ollie's intel to help find the missing girl, Mirjam.

While I enjoyed most of Girl in the Blue Coat, I did find a few things that bothered me. Because there are so many different main and supporting characters and storylines, the novel can get a bit confusing at times. It's mostly just a matter of trying to remember each character and their role in the book and the plot, but once a reader has mastered them, it's smooth sailing from that point forward.

Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse is a piece of YA historical fiction that will get readers thinking and interested in one of history's darkest time periods. This is one book that I can see myself recommending to everyone I know because it's just such an important story that needs to be read. I can see this book being taught in middle and high schools, and it would be a great pairing to Markus Zusak's The Book Thief and The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.

Monica Hesse is a features writer at the Washington Post, where she writes widely shared longform pieces and has covered royal weddings, political campaigns, and White House state dinners. She has talked about those stories and others on NBC, MSNBC, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, and NPR. She lives in Washington D.C., with her husband and their dog.

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