The most important part of this novel might be the recipe for salmon quiche.
The recipe sets the tone for the whole book, because it’s completely impractical: “While whistling, crack the eggs into a bowl and whip them with a fork….Do not throw away the eggshells! They can be used as tiny pots for starting plants from seeds.” It’s perhaps not too surprising that the minds that would dream up that recipe and put it in a historical novel would also tell the story of the Nazi occupation of Paris by writing about a whale who loves the ukulele. The whale is named Franklin, and he tends to pop out of the Seine when 12-year-old Chantal plays “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” And yet, this fanciful, impossible animal fable often feels just as urgent as the real events. The book never hides the horrors of war. There are bombs and starvation and concentration camps. McGuire’s gray-toned illustrations help. They show mundane objects: fishing boots, a radio, a ukulele, but in this context, they become strangely enchanting. (Chantal is white, as depicted in the illustrations, and so are most of the other characters, who are either her relatives or connected to the German military.)
Near the end of the book, a military officer says, “In the nonsense of war, everything makes sense.” Readers may find this utterly ridiculous story utterly convincing and even sometimes heartbreaking. (Historical fantasy. 8-12)