Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse
Publication Date: April 5th, 2016
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Hitler’s invasion of The Netherlands has taken everything from Hanneke. The war has forced her to make her living dangerously by selling goods in Holland’s black market. Her dealings taken an even deadlier turn when a client asks her to find a missing Jewish girl, Mirjam, that she’d been hiding in her pantry. Hanneke’s own experiences of loss compel her to risk it all and find the girl in the blue coat.
I knew very little about Holland’s involvement in WWII. I thought that they were a neutral country that mostly stayed out of the war. Turns out I was right… until I wasn’t. Holland maintained neutrality until Hitler invaded their country, despite promising that he wouldn’t. He lied. When he began to exact his “Final Solution” towards the Jewish Dutch, hiding spots were few and far between for families attempting to escape his evil plans. Additionally, I had no idea that the Germans initiated Judenraete, or Jewish Council, a bureaucratic committee created to ensure that their demands were carried out among the Jewish people. While Dutch Jews initially believed this council would help ease relations between the Jews and the Nazi’s, it actually made it easier for Nazi’ to track them down and round them up for deportation. This is the heartbreaking context within which Girl in the Blue Coat is told.
Hanneke is not used to keeping her head down. Growing up, she was a firebrand; speaking outright against Hitler’s dictatorship and never shying away from a political or social debate. She loves a boy named Sebastian, Bas for short, and they plan to get married once he returns from the front lines. When Bas suddenly dies, so does much of Hanneke’s spirited nature. His death also hung a weight of guilt over her shoulders, as she feels responsible for his death. When her client, Mrs. Janssen pays her to find the Jewish girl, Mirjam, that she’d been hiding, Hanneke doesn’t want to risk more than she already has, but eventually agrees to find her. I thought the development and growth of her character was perfect. Just right for the amount of time that we’re with her, which is only about a week. Her story is one of suffering shared by the Dutch, and sensitive and honorable towards the Jewish suffering of that time as well.
The plot and context was another huge asset for this novel. Just when you think that this is a straightforward historical mystery, it’s not. It’s an emotional roller coaster with twist and turns that only add to the depth of the story instead of distracting from it.
Overall, this is a strong YA novel that explores the deep guilt that comes with choices we regret. Sometimes, war and struggle forces us to be people and do things that we would never have thought ourselves capable of doing. Yet, for all of us, there are moments of hope and opportunities for redemption.