Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse


Now, I have to start out this review by saying that I thought I was going to be pretty bias towards this novel before I started it. It's published by the company that I work at, and edited by my mentor. But it wasn't at all. I really enjoyed it; I thought it had wonderful characters and powerful, heart-clenching scenes.

But it wasn't perfect. I saw some flaws, despite everything that I had stacked on my side. Which is good? I guess. It means I'm not completely amoral (for this), and that I can look past all of things that were stacked in my favor. And as you will see, if you continue reading this review, there is nothing that is bad about the story. In fact, I have really positive things to say about every aspect of the story. It just all boils down to the fact that it didn't move me like I thought it was going to.

Amsterdam, 1943. Hanneke spends her days finding and delivering sought-after black market goods to paying customers, nights hiding the true nature of her work from her concerned parents, and every waking moment mourning her boyfriend, who was killed on the Dutch front lines when the German army invaded. Her illegal work keeps her family afloat, and Hanneke also likes to think of it as a small act of rebellion against the Nazis.

On a routine delivery, a client asks Hanneke for help. Expecting to hear that Mrs. Janssen wants meat or kerosene, Hanneke is shocked by the older woman’s frantic plea to find a person: a Jewish teenager Mrs. Janssen had been hiding, who has vanished without a trace from a secret room. Hanneke initially wants nothing to do with such a dangerous task but is ultimately drawn into a web of mysteries and stunning revelations—where the only way out is through.

Hanneke was an incredibly well developed character. She feels a tremendous amount of guilt over her past, and carries that guilt around with her in every scene. The story exists because of her guilt. But her guilt makes her brave. She takes chances, fights for what is right, and tries to help a stranger survive. I loved her narrative and growth as the story unfolded.

The secondary characters were crafted just as well. They all had an important part in the story and weren't just there for filler. They had their own stories, their own tragedies, but they were there to guide Hanneke and help make some important decisions in the plot and for herself. I loved Ollie who, in particular, helped her look for Mirjam and teach Hanneke about herself.

This story is built on characters and relationships, but in reality, and for the most part, Hanneke is very alone. The relationships take a backseat. But the relationships in her past and the war are what has crafted her into the person she is in the story. Her relationship with her best friend, Elsbeth and her boyfriend, Bas. These relationships, and the way they crumbled and ended, are the reasons Hanneke makes the decisions that craft the story. The reason for her guilt and shame. And they are fluid and crafted so well--as well as the emotions that are built behind them.

I think the writing is pretty straightforward, without a lot of metaphor or exaggerated prose. It's not my favorite kind of writing--I'm a sucker for the flowery crap--but it was great nonetheless. The historical accuracy and research that went into the novel though, is astounding and commendable.

Like I said earlier, there isn't anything truly wrong with the story. Every once and a while there was a pacing issue, and there is one scene entirely that I wished was different, but the story was written and told very well. And the last third of the novel was genius, and I blew through it like the Tasmanian devil.

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