The aftermath of World War II is rarely addressed in YA fiction. Narratives typically conclude with scenes of liberation and celebration as good triumphs over evil, and everything returns to normal. Monica Hesse’s They Went Left begins where those narratives end.
Zofia’s story opens in 1945, a few months after she and thousands of others were liberated from concentration camps and sent back into the world to reclaim what they lost. For Zofia—who witnessed her entire family except her little brother, Abek, being sent into the titular left line that led to the camp’s gas chambers—this is not a simple or easy task.
Zofia is broken, physically and mentally, and has spent the months after liberation in a hospital. She clings to the memory of her final goodbye to Abek, and to the promise she made in that moment that she would find him after the war. Released from the hospital, Zofia returns to her family’s home, only to discover that all of their possessions are gone and their neighbors are openly hostile to the idea of Jewish families reclaiming their residences. Desperate, Zofia sets out across war-torn Europe to find Abek while trying to piece together the truth behind her memories.
They Went Left takes readers deep into Zofia’s thoughts, pulling us along through her experiences, past and present, even as she begins to wonder whether she can trust her own perceptions and memories. Hesse’s meticulous research is evident on every page but never distracts from her propulsive plot.
Combining history, romance and mystery, They Went Left is a heartbreaking yet hopeful story of what it takes to survive after trauma.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Go behind the scenes of They Went Left with author Monica Hesse.