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Girl in the Blue Coat


Girl in the Blue Coat

Amsterdam, 1943.

In the middle of a war-torn continent and a war-torn year, Hanneke divides her time between finding and delivering in-demand black market goods, hiding the truth about this work from her parents, and grieving for her boyfriend, Bas, who was killed at the Dutch front lines when the Germans invaded. She is devastated and angry at herself and the world, but she likes to think of her work as a small act of rebellion against the Germans who took Bas away from her.

On a day like any other, one of Hanneke’s clients, Mrs. Janssen, reveals that her husband had been harboring his Jewish boss and family in a secret room at his office. When the Germans raided the building and killed him, the family’s daughter escaped and found Mrs. Janssen. Then Mrs. Janssen asks Hanneke to do the impossible: find the Jewish teenager she had been hiding, who vanished from the secret room without a trace. At first, Hanneke refuses to have anything to do with Mrs. Janssen and her dilemma, but she is soon drawn into the web of mystery that the disappearance of this Jewish teenager has spun. As the story unfolds, Hanneke is shown new truths about the resistance, the Nazis and what it means to be a teenager in a divided world.

"[GIRL IN THE BLUE COAT] is meticulously researched and taut with suspense, mystery and romance....Each word seems carefully picked, plucked and plotted specifically for the story. I also loved the characters and how flawed they were."

Right from the first page, I knew I was not reading from a debut novelist. I couldn’t be. In a way, Monica Hesse is not a debut author; she has been writing for the Washington Post for years.

She is a debut author in the sense that this is her first novel, but this wonderful book does not read like a debut. It is meticulously researched and taut with suspense, mystery and romance. GIRL IN THE BLUE COAT is such a sad and heartbreaking book, but it reads like an action-mystery-romance novel. I do not know how Hesse did it, especially after writing only the facts for so many years. The best thing I can say about this book is how gorgeous the writing is. Each word seems carefully picked, plucked and plotted specifically for the story. I also loved the characters and how flawed they were. They were not heroes or revolutionaries or anything of the sort. They were teenagers trying to find a way to live in a war-ravaged country.

While I loved the characters, I also think there were too many of them. I would frequently confuse one character with another and have to go back and review what exactly was going on --- though that was not too bad of a chore, especially since I loved the writing so much. In addition to there being too many characters, I have to say that I did not like Hanneke that much. I knew why she wanted to find and rescue the Jewish teenager, but I just didn’t believe her motives. Unfortunately, I was not convinced that she really cared whether this girl lived or died, but maybe that was the point. Hanneke was obsessed with the idea of saving someone and redeeming herself, but not as crazy about the actual act of doing it. Either way, I found that Hanneke could have had a little more depth and development.

Besides the characters, there was only one other flaw I found in this book: I could predict everything that was going to happen. Usually, I do not mind knowing or predicting events in a story because, honestly, it makes me feel pretty smart when I do. But in a book like this, with so much at stake and such a tense setting, I did not like how predictable it was. In a way, it took away from the storytelling. I did appreciate Hesse’s twists and turns throughout the story, but I saw them all coming, so they did not have the intended effect.

Overall, I found GIRL IN THE BLUE COAT to be a vitally important story about Amsterdam, teenagers, and the resistance during World War II. I found myself relating to these teenagers that were living in such a different time than I am in now, which is a feat in on itself. GIRL IN THE BLUE COAT is a story about a young girl’s fight for redemption, freedom and friendship in the midst of a terrible war, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Perfect for fans of Ruta Sepetys’s wonderfully researched young adult historical fiction novels and THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK.

Reviewed by Bryn D., Teen Board Member on April 26, 2016

Girl in the Blue Coat
by Monica Hesse