A political features writer at the Washington Post turns to teen fiction and delivers the goods.
World War II Amsterdam, the world of Anne Frank: because most readers know it through that lens, it’s imagined as a claustrophobic, invisible world. Hesse’s debut novel turns the story around: “Aryan poster girl” Hanneke spends her days cycling through her occupied city, using the ration cards of the dead to play the black market for her undertaker boss. Hanneke knows things are bad, but her own guilty grief—her boyfriend died in the futile fight against the Nazis, and Hanneke blames herself for pushing him to fight—blinds her. When one of her clients asks her to find a missing Jewish girl, 15 and vanished from Mrs. Janssen’s hidden room, Hanneke stumbles into a pocket of the resistance and begins to understand the depths of the horror facing her country and the immensity of the Nazi evil. Hesse’s impeccable research meshes almost seamlessly with Hanneke’s present-tense narration, bringing the time and place to life. Rich in content and emotion, this is a first-rate companion to the historical tales of the onderduikers, the hidden Jews of Holland, and a compelling read despite its mildly rose-tinted resolution.
Shelve this one beside resistance tales like Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity (2012) and read next to a box of tissues. (Historical fiction. 12 & up)