Title: Girl in the Blue Coat
Author: Monica Hesse
Publication Date: April 5, 2016
Publisher: Little, Brown
“Amsterdam, 1943. Hanneke spends her days procuring and delivering sought-after black market goods to paying customers, her 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 Germans invaded. She likes to think of her illegal work as a small act of rebellion.
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 dangerous work, but is ultimately drawn into a web of mysteries and stunning revelations that lead her into the heart of the resistance, open her eyes to the horrors of the Nazi war machine, and compel her to take desperate action.”
As an historian who did her high school distinction project and undergraduate thesis on WWII (specifically the political context of the invasion of North Africa), I am always excited to read WWII YA. Girl in the Blue Coat is the third WWII YA book published in 2016, and it is an impressive addition to the genre.
For many people, Anne Frank is the beginning and ending of what they know about the Netherlands during WWII. I personally knew very little about the role that the Netherlands played in the war, and this book really shed some light on that, especially in regards to the resistance.
Our protagonist Hanneke uses dead citizen’s ration cards for her black market work, stockpiling goodwill from her neighbors, until one day she is tasked to find something she can’t get with a ration card: Mirjam, a Jewish girl who’s gone missing. Mirjam is one of the countless onderduikers, the hidden Jews of Holland who spent their days hidden from Nazis by their Christian neighbors in secret rooms, tiny cupboards, or attics like Anne Frank and her family. The inclusion of onderduikers and that experience was one of my favorite aspects of the book. I really appreciated that we have Jewish characters in the book that the reader gets to know and is presented with the reality of their experience in a highly collaborationist country. Over 100,000 Jews were deported from the Netherlands during the war, and Monica Hesse makes it a point to clearly show the reader how those deportations took place.
Hanneke herself was a real high point of the novel – she’s far from your perfect, good girl protag. Hanneke feels immense guilt over her boyfriend’s death, and she’s determined to work the system to her advantage. She isn’t interested in joining up with the resistance, but when she befriends a group of college students, she finds herself even more involved with the movement. The Girl in the Blue Coat is so multifaceted, and I appreciated that there was so much more to this than a search and rescue mission. There were so many surprises woven into the story that I was completely invested in Hanneke and her if she would succeed.
Girl in the Blue Coat was a fantastic read about a part of history with which I’m largely unfamiliar. I’ve been to Amsterdam before, so I recognized some of the locations mentioned in this book, which was a nice part of my personal reading experience. If you’re a fan of historical fiction, Girl in the Blue Coat needs to make its way onto your TBR list.
Rating: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
*I received an ARC of this in exchange for an honest review.