Girl in the Blue Coat

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Girl in the Blue Coat Book Poster Image
Extraordinary tale of Dutch teens resisting the Nazis.

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 3 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

This piece of historical fiction teaches kids about various aspects of World War II, particularly the Dutch Resistance and occupation. Readers will learn about the German occupation of Holland, the ill-fated Dutch war against the overwhelming power of the Germans, the laws that make anyone with means turn to the black market, the student resistance movement, and the fate of the Dutch Jews who were housed and deported from a famous Amsterdam theater.

Positive Messages

The book illustrates the difference between moral laws and immoral laws and how it's sometimes necessary to break immoral laws to initiate change. It also depicts how people make unthinkable decisions during war and how it's those circumstances that reveal a person's true nature, whether you know it or not. Hanneke's role in the Resistance shows how even teens and individuals can make a huge difference to a collective effort and that some ideas and causes are worth sacrificing your safety to uphold.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Hanneke is outspoken and brave, and while she's confused about her role in the Resistance, she feels compelled to save a life despite not knowing the girl. Ollie does his best to protect Hanneke as well as his close friends of Resistance workers. Bas is a loving and funny boyfriend who feels it's his duty to fight the Germans even though he's scared to do so. People who might seem selfish are actually secret members of the underground Resistance.

Violence

Mentions of the war front and characters are killed by gunfire and bombs. Lots of tense and upsetting references to the deportations, concentration camps, and the fact that Nazis can immediately shoot to kill people for breaking certain laws (no arrests or courts necessary). A few characters are killed by Nazi gunfire, and hundreds of people are deported presumably to their deaths. Hanneke nearly vomits when she enters the theater (without working toilets) where Jews are kept awaiting deportation. People live under harrowing conditions.

Sex

A couple of passionate kisses that are recollections; another two kisses -- one to fake out the Germans and another that's cut off quickly. There's a brief mention of a forbidden gay relationship and a politically scandalous marriage between a Dutch young woman and a Nazi officer.

Language

Occasional strong language in italicized Dutch.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Infrequently, adults drink or smoke cigarettes.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byK W December 15, 2017

A main character is homosexual

A main character admits that he is homosexual and in love with another well known character (his roommate, although there is no sexual relationship between them...
Parent Written bySacha D. September 16, 2018

Great book!

My kids and I are reading this together. It’s a great book. The characters are great and as you learn more about them all their circumstances become increasingl... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byjulie2003 September 27, 2016

Amazing!

Hannekke starts off cold hearted and unfeeling but her search for Jewish girl Mirjam, changes everything. By the end of the book you will notice how much her ch... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byaSolek November 7, 2017

Amazing and Heart Breaking

This book is about a girl resisting the Nazis by trying to save a Jewish girl from being deported to 'somewhere.' The book is written as if through th... Continue reading

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?

Book details

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