Thursday, December 22, 2016

Girl in the Blue Coat

Image result for girl blue coat hesseGirl in the Blue Coat
Monica Hesse
Little Brown, 2016  301 pgs
Grades 8-Up
Historical Fiction/Mystery

Hanneke is a runner on the black market in World War II occupied Amsterdam. Her employer, a mortician, uses the ration cards from dead people to acquire good for resale at inflated prices. Because of her connection to the "underground", a neighbor, 
Mrs. Janssen, implores Hanneke to help her locate a missing Jewish teenage girl that she was hiding in a secret room in her pantry. Hanneke gets caught up in the disappearance of Mirjam, who was last seen wearing a blue coat. Finding Mirjam will somehow compensate for the guilt and loss surrounding the death of her boyfriend, who was killed during the Nazi invasion. The late boyfriend's brother, Ollie, agrees to help Hanneke locate Mirjam, sweeping her into the world of the Dutch underground. Through these new contacts Hanneke meets some courageous young people who are willing to sacrifice their own lives to save their countrymen. Surprises await Hanneke as her quest continues, including the nature behind Ollie's romantic intentions, the fate of the new friends she has met, and the whereabouts of Mirjam. Nothing is what Hanneke originally thought as she slowly begins to unravel the truth behind the missing girl's whereabouts and painfully begins to come to terms with her own loss.

So many holocaust books have come out in the last few years and I feel as if I needed a break from them. The Girls in the Blue Coat seemed to be a fresh take on the genre, so I gave it a try and was glad that I did. As much of a mystery as a work of historical fiction, Hesse adds a bonus layer of a young woman coming of age during a terrible time and wrestling with terrible guilt. We see Hanneke grow from a self-absorbed teenager worrying about her own survival and grief to a much more developed adult, willing to help her society as a whole and seeing beyond her own needs and feelings.The mystery offers plots twists that I didn't see coming and Hanneke herself tracks down the clues, often at great personal peril. Throughout the story, as more of the truth is revealed behind the characters, readers are exposed to the daily life of occupied Amsterdam during the second world war. Hesse has done her research and the setting feels rich and authentic, allowing readers to experience what life was like during this time. Growing up I read and re-read Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl and Corrie Ten Boom's The Hiding Place, true accounts of the Holocaust in the Netherlands. The Girl in the Blue Coat, though fictionalized, is historically accurate and a great companion to the before mentioned titles. Although the main character of this book is a girl, both male and female readers will enjoy the story and it has a great potential for classroom connections. A great tale that will make the reader's life richer for spending time with it.

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