Published April 2016 by Little, Brown.
Goodreads Synopsis: 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.
My review: Anyone who knows me well enough will know that I do not shut up about Monica Hesse’s début YA books, STRAY and BURN, which are two of my all-time favourite books, ever. My excitement went through the roof when I found out that Hesse had written another YA book – and I was very interested to see her genre choice jump from Sci-Fi to historical fiction. I was delighted to have the chance to read it.
Girl in the Blue Coat is set in wartime Amsterdam. Hanneke is secretly running illegal errands, delivering extra rations of food to local people, and staying under the radar. But when one of her clients asks her to help search for a missing Jewish girl that she’d been hiding, her life is turned upside down as she is catapulted into a complex mystery, and begins to unravel dark secrets about the what is happening to Jewish people being captured in Amsterdam.
Story time: I visited Amsterdam last year, and had the chance to also visit Anne Frank Huis. It was really heartbreaking and moving to walk around the tiny place the Frank family had to hide in for years – it’s incredibly eye-opening, and hard to believe that this was a reality for many Jewish people during the second world war. Monica Hesse’s attention to detail is admirable; her extensive research is evident in her meticulous descriptions – from the streets of Amsterdam, to the place Jewish people were inhumanely held, to the hiding spaces in Dutch households.
The plot gripped me from the start and hasn’t really let me go, even after closing the book. I’m still thinking about the story weeks later. It’s rare to find something so incredibly raw as this is – the emotion in this book is so intense and it can be quite hard to read the brutal nature of events at points. Admittedly, I don’t take history, but I’m sure the level of detail Monica Hesse explores in Girl in the Blue Coat can exceed what people learn in schools. This has really opened my eyes to what happened in Amsterdam, and I’m eager to learn more.
Hanneke is one of those characters I couldn’t help but adore. From the opening pages, I admired her daring nature, and her realistic inner conflict about searching for a Jewish girl in a dangerous world. I was rooting for her all of the way through, and loved the unlikely community she finds in the book, during her search. All of these characters will definitely stay with me for a long time – many scenes where their backgrounds are explored really moved me.
Overall, Girl in the Blue Coat was an incredible read. Monica Hesse has transcended into the historical fiction genre beautifully, with a powerful and mesmerising novel about the brutality of wartime events in Amsterdam, highlighting the bravery and selflessness of those who resisted Nazi efforts. The story is hard to fault, and was hard to put down; I was desperate to unravel the truth about this mysterious girl for myself. The ending was incredibly unpredictable, and the final events of the story brought me to tears! Highly recommended if you’re looking for a thought-provoking read.
I received a copy of Girl in the Blue Coat.