Review + Giveaway (US): They Went Left – Beautifully Written But Incomplete

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Title:
They Went Left
Author:
Monica Hesse
Publisher:
Little Brown Books for Young Readers

Genre(s): YA Historical Fiction
Subject(s): WW2, Holocaust, Mental Health, Siblings

Release Date:
April 7th, 2020
Page Count: 384 (hardback)

Rating: 6.0/10

 

 


 

I admit, I’m not exactly in the right mood for Holocaust fiction at this point in 2020, but I went into this book for a specific reason: I wanted something hopeful. Something about finding light at the end of a tunnel and holding onto it, despite how much easier it might be to turn and walk right back in. Nothing blindingly happy. Just reaffirming.

And that’s what I got. A story set right after the end of WW2, during its first few months of tentative chaos, with people trying to pick up the pieces of their lives. It’s not a healing story, exactly, but it is a story about healing and the complications that come with such a journey. Zofia’s mental state–her looping thoughts and fears, her gaps in memory, her disassociation– are presented with such great care and lyricism. There just aren’t a lot of WW2 stories out there that focus on camp survivors who were just recently liberated, and I really appreciate Hesse for shining a light on the topic. Because while there’s strength in surviving, I think there’s even greater strength in living. In moving forward with your life, carrying all the horrors you’ve experienced, and choosing to embrace love and laughter in spite of the pain. It’s a kind of courage that deserves to be highlighted more in narratives.

 

“Today I am choosing to love the person in front of me. Do you understand? Because he’s here, I’m here, and we’re ready to not be lonely together.”

 

I was also anticipating a good mystery, though (I mean, the blurbs and synopsis lean heavily on it) but that I didn’t get at all. What little mystery there is predictable and rushed and its conclusion left me feeling underwhelmed. And “rushed” is more or less my biggest complaint about the whole thing. The story throws a handful of plot threads at you–a slice-of-life angle focusing on the refugees in the displaced person camp; a romantic subplot between Zofia and Josef; a search for Zofia’s brother–and while their skeletal structure is interesting, the execution needs a lot more fleshing out. More development of the characters at the camp, better exploration of the romance.

Right now it feels more like an abridged book, and while I really liked the prose and the themes presented, I can only dream longingly for the unabridged version that never existed.

 

 

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Synopsis

Germany, 1945. The soldiers who liberated the Gross-Rosen concentration camp said the war was over, but nothing feels over to eighteen-year-old Zofia Lederman. Her body has barely begun to heal; her mind feels broken. And her life is completely shattered: Three years ago, she and her younger brother, Abek, were the only members of their family to be sent to the right, away from the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Everyone else–her parents, her grandmother, radiant Aunt Maja–they went left.

Zofia’s last words to her brother were a promise: Abek to Zofia, A to Z. When I find you again, we will fill our alphabet. Now her journey to fulfill that vow takes her through Poland and Germany, and into a displaced persons camp where everyone she meets is trying to piece together a future from a painful past: Miriam, desperately searching for the twin she was separated from after they survived medical experimentation. Breine, a former heiress, who now longs only for a simple wedding with her new fiancé. And Josef, who guards his past behind a wall of secrets, and is beautiful and strange and magnetic all at once.

But the deeper Zofia digs, the more impossible her search seems. How can she find one boy in a sea of the missing? In the rubble of a broken continent, Zofia must delve into a mystery whose answers could break her–or help her rebuild her world.

 

 

About the Author

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Monica Hesse is the New York Times bestselling author of Girl in the Blue Coat, American Fire, and The War Outside, as well as a columnist at The Washington Post writing about gender and its impact on society. She lives outside Washington, D.C. with her husband and their dog.

 

Tour Schedule

You can check out all the other stops on the tour HERE!

 

Giveaway (U.S.)

Two lucky U.S. residents have a chance to win a physical copy of They Went Left! ENTER HERE.

 

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Review copy provided by the publisher for an honest review

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Blog Tour Review: We Rule the Night – Came for Girl Friendships, Stayed for Girl Friendships

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Title: We Rule the Night
Author: Claire Eliza Bartlett
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: April 2nd, 2019
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, Steampunk
Subjects and Themes: Female Friendships, Feminism, History-Inspired
Page Count: 400 (hardback)

Rating: N/A

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Seventeen-year-old Revna is a factory worker, manufacturing war machines for the Union of the North. When she’s caught using illegal magic, she fears being branded a traitor and imprisoned. Meanwhile, on the front lines, Linné defied her father, a Union general, and disguised herself as a boy to join the army. They’re both offered a reprieve from punishment if they use their magic in a special women’s military flight unit and undertake terrifying, deadly missions under cover of darkness. Revna and Linné can hardly stand to be in the same cockpit, but if they can’t fly together, and if they can’t find a way to fly well, the enemy’s superior firepower will destroy them–if they don’t destroy each other first.
We Rule the Night is a powerful story about sacrifice, complicated friendships, and survival despite impossible odds.

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A fantasy military story with an all-female regiment and a “soft-spoken girl with a blunt, tight-laced girl” dynamic? Gosh, Claire, it’s like you know me.

I’ll be starting off with short bullet points for this beauty because this is so, so very last minute:

♥ This is a fantasy telling/dressup of the WW2 Night Witches, Soviet Union’s all-female bomber regiment (which seems to be a popular topic in fiction lately). I love the way the author constructed the world–the way it feels like a WW2 setting but with a steampunk flair. The girls pilot planes that are made of living metal, which means they can use magic (Weavecraft) to control it. Really cool stuff.

♥ The two main characters, Revna and Linné, are as different as they come. Revna has lost her legs in a factory accident and her use of prostheses makes Linné question whether she’s fit to be a pilot. Linné, on the other hand, is the daughter of a celebrated general and carries a “I’m better than this, why am I here” attitude. Their dynamic is a fascinating one, moving from hostility to respect and friendship.

♥ Girls risking lives for each other. Girls fighting alongside each other. Girls learning to trust each other. And girls supporting each other in an environment that believes women shouldn’t get involved in wars. (I hope you’ve been nodding furiously with each sentence.) It has it all and it does it well.

♥ My only real main problem was with the ending which I thought was rather shockingly abrupt.

Okay, well, awesome! That sounds pretty great, right? So why am I not giving it a rating?

Right. This is 100% on my end. We Rule the Night had the unfortunate timing of coming immediately after the most personal and emotionally draining book I’ve read in the past two years. My brain was (and still is) utterly scrambled and I couldn’t concentrate on anything else, especially other books. I mean, I would read a paragraph and ask myself, “Wait, what did I just read?” It’s ridiculous. It’s like trying to date just days after the (second) worst breakup of my life.

So I couldn’t give this book the full attention that it absolutely deserved, and any rating I give right now wouldn’t feel…fair. But make no mistake, this is a strong debut and I’m definitely going to be doing a re-read once I get my brain pieces back in order. And you should also pick it up because we need more stories about female empowerment floating around in our collective memories.

 

“That was the secret they shared as they held out their cups and got another splash of strong tea and tangy liquor. That was the secret they smiled over when they went to dinner. Not that they could fly, not that they could use the Weave. We can do anything.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Claire Bartlett lives in an enchanted forest apartment in Copenhagen with too many board games and too few cats.

Get more detailed information, like how many board games is too many, how many cats is too few, and what book-related beauties I’m working on by signing up for my newsletter.

 

TOUR SCHEDULE

Check out the rest of the tour stops HERE!