April 05, 2016

Drawn into a web of World War II secrets

By Monica Hesse
Review by

Oral histories from World War II come to life in Monica Hesse’s historical fiction debut.

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Oral histories from World War II come to life in Monica Hesse’s historical fiction debut.

In 1943 German-occupied Amsterdam, 18-year-old Hanneke Bakker busily goes about delivering black market goods until she gets to Mrs. Janssen’s home. The old woman insists that Hanneke help find Mirjam, the Jewish girl she’s kept hidden in her home until she recently vanished. Hanneke’s unsuccessful search at Mirjam’s school leads to a chain of events, including a run-in with a resistance group. Hanneke learns that Mirjam has gone to the infamous Hollandsche Schouwburg, an old theater house turned into a deportation center, and develops an escape plan. But when she tries to come to Mirjam’s rescue, Hanneke discovers that there is more to the mysterious teen than her mere disappearance.

Replete with a well-defined fictional cast, Girl in the Blue Coat is heavily laced with locations and events in the Netherlands from this dark period in history. Inspired by oral histories of people affiliated with the theater, Hesse’s first-person tale captures the inner turmoil of one young adult desperately trying to make sense of her irrational environs. Keeping to a continually flowing storyline, Hesse weaves in various subplots that, taken as a whole, give a glimpse into “small betrayals in the middle of a big war” and aptly fulfills Hesse’s goal of illustrating “the split-second decisions we make of moral courage and cowardice, and how we are all heroes and villains.”

This is a stunning literary work as well as a wonderful addition to WWII and Holocaust collections.

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Girl in the Blue Coat

Girl in the Blue Coat

By Monica Hesse
Little, Brown
ISBN 9780316260602

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