November book review

Bethany Villaruz, Writer

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By Monica Hesse

301 pp. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, $17.99.

Spartana rating: 5/5 stars


War is always a sobering subject, none so much as World War II.

Hundreds of books have been published about the Holocaust, so why is Monica Hesse’s Girl in the Blue Coat unforgettable?

The novel is a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a war story if I ever saw one. What seem to be a number of totally unconnected lives intertwine in the unique story Hesse creates.

The year is 1943, and Hanneke is doing what she can in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. She smuggles black-market goods to those who can afford them, and wants nothing more to do with the situation. Especially not after her lover was killed in combat.

But then Hanneke is asked to seek out a person in place of an illegal ration. She is tasked with finding Mirjam Roodveldt, a young Jewish girl who was in hiding but has since disappeared into the streets of Amsterdam.

In her quest to save a life, Hanneke becomes involved with a small resistance movement. Hesse crafts a unique point of view from the perspective of Nazi opposers in a country that was affected by the war, but not at the heart of it.

“Reading about a Holocaust book from a different perspective… that was really interesting to me,” librarian Ms. Nicole Detter said.

Hesse’s heroine is interestingly self-centered. She’s driven by the promise of easing her own guilt, but eventually grows to care for a girl she’s never met before. Hanneke is nothing if not persistent, and is relatable in a way protagonists of historical fiction must be.

Modern teens can easily identify with Hesse’s young protagonists, despite the large gap in time period. Perhaps this is because Girl in the Blue Coat is not only a story of the war but a story of love and loss.

I think it’s impossible not to be touched by the theme of friendship and how it can be compromised. Hesse draws beautiful parallels between Hanneke and Mirjam and their respective best friends. This particular story arc is regretful in a way that the others aren’t, giving both Hanneke and Mirjam (who has little voiced dialogue) emotional depth.

I found myself sympathetic of Hanneke, who had lost both her boyfriend and her best friend in exchange for a war. The impact of World War II on even the least significant relationships was devastating, and Hesse conveys this with skill.

“I learn little things about individual people,” librarian Mrs. Nancy Lembke said when speaking about historical fiction. Hesse certainly proves this conviction in her novel. Girl in the Blue Coat zeroes in on one person, albeit fictional, who helps to commit small actions against the evil of Nazi Germany.

The plot is intricate and impactful- and about one small resistance movement. The individual’s war story is almost more meaningful in that every small effect of the war is described. According to student Annika Schenkel, a book doesn’t matter without an interesting story. “It’s really just the plot,” Schenkel said.

Hesse combines information with wonderful storytelling in her novel. Girl in the Blue Coat is a must-read for any student, but especially for those interested in the history of World War II.

The views reflected in this article are those of the author only.

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