A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Girl in the Blue Coat is a debut historical novel written by Washington Post writer Monica Hesse. The book details the story of a Dutch teen who delivers smuggled goods on her bicycle until one day she's asked to do something considerably more dangerous: find a missing Jewish girl (with a blue coat) who mysteriously disappeared from the house of the courageous woman hiding her. The violence includes harrowing scenes of trying to avoid detection by the Nazis and the deaths by gunshot that ensue because of a mission gone wrong. Characters are deported, and there are several close calls. Infrequently, there's a curse word in Dutch, and while there's a love story, there's more described about the feelings than the physical relationship, aside from a couple of kisses. There's a brief mention of a forbidden relationship and a politically scandalous marriage. Some adults smoke, and Hanneke recalls smoking cigarettes.
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What's the story?
GIRL IN THE BLUE COAT is set in German-occupied 1943 Amsterdam, where "Aryan poster girl" Hanneke secretly smuggles goods on behalf of her undertaker boss. Haunted by memories of her boyfriend Bas, who died three years earlier fighting the Germans, Hanneke considers flirting with local Nazi enlisted men to conduct her black market deliveries -- her way of undermining the enemy. But when one of her customers, Mrs. Janssen, asks her not for coffee, cigarettes, or nylons but to help her find Mirjam, a missing Jewish 15-year-old girl (with the titular blue coat) who had been hiding in her house's secret cupboard, Hanneke has to consider whether she's up to the task. Petty smuggling is dangerous, but hiding (and looking for hidden) Jews is punishable by death. Complicating manners, Hanneke needs help from the underground Resistance, and the more she looks for the missing girl, the more dangerous the situation is for everyone involved.
Is it any good?
Impeccably researched and beautifully written, this unforgettable World War II novel about a young Dutch smuggler's life-changing decision to find a missing Jewish girl is poignant and fascinating. The plot is unputdownable: a mix of emotional coming-of-age revelations plus the intense realities and horrors of WWII and the riveting central mystery of what happened to Mirjam. Readers will feel compelled to keep going, as Hannie digs herself deeper into the dangerous waters of resistance work, discovering exactly what's happening at Amsterdam's legendary Schouwburg Theater, which imprisons Dutch Jews awaiting deportation. When she first walks into the Schouwburg, with memories of the last time she saw a show there, she's immediately overwhelmed by the terrifying reality of what the Nazis are doing.
Although there are definitely painful and disturbing passages, the author's prose is crisp and accessible to younger readers. The language is artful without being flowery, and the plot is layered without being convoluted. Even adult readers will learn a great deal about the Dutch role in the war as an occupied country with a mostly Aryan populace the Nazis felt could be assimilated into German culture. Hesse contextualizes various aspects of Dutch responses to the war, from the young woman who falls in love and marries a Nazi (and therefore betters her station) to the black market smugglers to the onderduikers and student resistance workers who did everything from help people go into hiding to try to save Jewish children by having them secretly adopted by well-meaning gentiles. This is the ideal book for a parent-child read-along, an extracurricular book club, summer school reading, or simply the pleasure of a book that entertains, expands your horizons, and teaches you all at once.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in the book. Is it necessary to tell the story? If so, why? Is historically accurate violence different from completely fictional violence?
What does the book teach you about World War II? How does this WWII story differ from other young-adult books about the time period?
Which characters are role models? How are they brave, kind, generous, and so on?
- Author: Monica Hesse
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Topics: Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, History
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
- Publication date: April 5, 2016
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 18
- Number of pages: 320
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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