Readers who prefer layered characters over racing plot should seek out the more subtle works of Judy Blundell or Kathryn...

VIOLINS OF AUTUMN

An American teenager becomes an Allied spy for the French Resistance during World War II in this briskly paced historical to novel.

Seventeen-year-old Betty Sweeney, aka Adele Blanchard, is thrilled to abandon the staid safety of her European boarding school after she is approached by dashing SOE (Special Operations Executive) agents looking for unassuming young women to serve as spies behind enemy lines in France. “All I have to do is drop into a foreign country, aid and train members of the ever-growing Resistance movement, sabotage railways, travel the country on a bicycle while concealing top-secret information, blow things up, and try not to get killed.” At the end of every cliffhanging chapter, intrepid Adele finds herself in a different do-or-die situation, whether it’s unobtrusively trying to carry her bicycle through rough water under an enemy-occupied bridge or leading a German soldier to certain death in the labyrinthine Paris sewers. She is also caught in a love triangle between French farmer-turned-fighter Pierre and downed American pilot Robbie, one of whom is not destined to live to see the end of the war. The fast pace, well-realized setting and fascinating espionage details help make up for the stereotypical characterizations and stiff dialogue.

Readers who prefer layered characters over racing plot should seek out the more subtle works of Judy Blundell or Kathryn Miller Haines. (Historical fiction. 12 & up)

Pub Date: June 19, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8027-2299-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Walker

Review Posted Online: March 28, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

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Beautifully written historical fiction about giddy, queer first love.

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LAST NIGHT AT THE TELEGRAPH CLUB

Finally, the intersectional, lesbian, historical teen novel so many readers have been waiting for.

Lily Hu has spent all her life in San Francisco’s Chinatown, keeping mostly to her Chinese American community both in and out of school. As she makes her way through her teen years in the 1950s, she starts growing apart from her childhood friends as her passion for rockets and space exploration grows—along with her curiosity about a few blocks in the city that her parents have warned her to avoid. A budding relationship develops with her first White friend, Kathleen, and together they sneak out to the Telegraph Club lesbian bar, where they begin to explore their sexuality as well as their relationship to each other. Lo’s lovely, realistic, and queer-positive tale is a slow burn, following Lily’s own gradual realization of her sexuality while she learns how to code-switch between being ostensibly heterosexual Chinatown Lily and lesbian Telegraph Bar Lily. In this meticulously researched title, Lo skillfully layers rich details, such as how Lily has to deal with microaggressions from gay and straight women alike and how all of Chinatown has to be careful of the insidious threat of McCarthyism. Actual events, such as Madame Chiang Kai-shek’s 1943 visit to San Francisco, form a backdrop to this story of a journey toward finding one’s authentic self.

Beautifully written historical fiction about giddy, queer first love. (author’s note) (Historical romance. 14-18)

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-525-55525-4

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful.

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SALT TO THE SEA

January 1945: as Russians advance through East Prussia, four teens’ lives converge in hopes of escape.

Returning to the successful formula of her highly lauded debut, Between Shades of Gray (2011), Sepetys combines research (described in extensive backmatter) with well-crafted fiction to bring to life another little-known story: the sinking (from Soviet torpedoes) of the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff. Told in four alternating voices—Lithuanian nurse Joana, Polish Emilia, Prussian forger Florian, and German soldier Alfred—with often contemporary cadences, this stints on neither history nor fiction. The three sympathetic refugees and their motley companions (especially an orphaned boy and an elderly shoemaker) make it clear that while the Gustloff was a German ship full of German civilians and soldiers during World War II, its sinking was still a tragedy. Only Alfred, stationed on the Gustloff, lacks sympathy; almost a caricature, he is self-delusional, unlikable, a Hitler worshiper. As a vehicle for exposition, however, and a reminder of Germany’s role in the war, he serves an invaluable purpose that almost makes up for the mustache-twirling quality of his petty villainy. The inevitability of the ending (including the loss of several characters) doesn’t change its poignancy, and the short chapters and slowly revealed back stories for each character guarantee the pages keep turning.

Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful. (author’s note, research and sources, maps) (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-16030-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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