10:00 am EDT, April 5, 2016

‘Girl in the Blue Coat’ book review: A great addition to the WWII fiction genre

An intense and unforgettable story of courage and friendship, Monica Hesse’s Girl in the Blue Coat is a great addition to the historical fiction genre.

Fans of World War II fiction (alternate history or otherwise) will want to pick up this gripping new novel.

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About ‘Girl in the Blue Coat’

It’s 1943 and nothing has been the same since the Germans invaded Amsterdam. Hanneke Bakker’s new normal includes obtaining and delivering small black market goods (such as makeup or coffee) to customers, working at a local funeral home, and mourning the loss of her boyfriend, Bas, who died when the Germans broke through the Dutch front lines. While it isn’t her ideal life, she likes to think she’s doing her part.

Out on a routine delivery run, one of Hanneke’s customers asks her to procure something even more dangerous than a tube of lipstick: a missing Jewish girl the woman had previously been hiding in her home. The girl, recently orphaned, had mysteriously vanished into thin air.

Hesitant at first to take the job, Hanneke can’t resist this mystery where nothing is as it seems. The more she digs, the more dangerous her situation becomes, leading her into the heart of the resistance and exposing her to the real horrors of the Nazi occupation.

Girl in the Blue Coat full cover

‘Girl in the Blue Coat’ book review

To me, one of the most interesting things about WWII historical fiction is the wide array of viewpoints and experiences available to read about. Girl in the Blue Coat has introduced me to a few that I haven’t encountered yet, including the experiences of living in a Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, dealing with black market goods, and being a part of the secret resistance. A lot of the times, WWI-centric novels are set in Britain or Germany and feature the front lines or some form of government or military groups. This novel is refreshing in that it focuses the lives of normal people in Amsterdam who are just trying to get by.

Another strength of Girl in the Blue Coat is the complexity and nuance of the novel’s characters. They’re so well fleshed-out in terms of their emotions and motivations that they feel like real people. None of their actions ever seem forced or uncharacteristic. Hesse strikes a especially great balance between confidence and hesitation in her characters, which makes all of the “action” scenes incredibly tense and dramatic. The characters in this novel are just so well-written that I was more interested in their lives and relationships than the central mystery.

That’s not to say that Girl in the Blue Coat‘s central plot wasn’t well-done or memorable. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. This novel’s mystery kept me guessing until the very end thanks to all of its twists and turns. I wouldn’t say that the twists are extremely shocking or heart-stopping, but they were incredibly effective and not ones you’d really see coming (even though the clues are all there). In fact, the fallout from the twists may even be more effecting as they led to harrowing scenes that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget.

While Girl in the Blue Coat is a bit less graphic than novels like The Book Thief and The Secret of Raven Point, the few graphic and heart-wrenching scenes that are in it really pack a punch. They really contrast the quiet and reserved nature of the rest of the novel while also feeding into and adding reason for the story’s underlying sense of fear and dread. It’s a really powerful balance that works for the story.

If you find yourself constantly on the lookout for historical fiction set during World War II or interesting mysteries, you won’t want to pass up Monica Hesse’s Girl in the Blue Coat. It’s a riveting read from start to finish that you won’t want to put down.

Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse is available now from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and your local independent bookstore. Also, don’t forget to add it to your Goodreads “to read” list!

Related: Front Lines book review: A must-read WWII alternate history

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