First Lines: The girl known as Gretchen Whitestone bicycled down the country lane. Desolate fields, their grasses winter-brown and glistening from the afternoon’s rainfall, stretched out on either side of the road.
You would think after doing a whole unit on the Holocaust with my 8th grades in the spring that I’d be done with anything related to it. But I’m even more fascinated by it. And there was no way I was going to pass this up.
*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*
Gretchen Whitestone has a secret: she used to be so close to Adolf Hitler that she called him Uncle Dolf. But that was over a year ago, before she infuriated Hitler and escaped to England to live with a kind family. She’s posing now as a normal German immigrant and getting ready to graduate high school. With her boyfriend, Daniel Cohen, not too far away, Gretchen is finally happy. When Daniel gets a telegram that sends him rushing back to Germany, her world is turned around. And when Daniel is accused of murder, Gretchen knows she has to face her fears and return to the country she once called home. The plan is simple: avoid being captured or recognized, clear Daniel’s name, and get out. But it’s no longer simple when Daniel uncovers a conspiracy that stretches from the slums to the Reichstag. Escaping with their lives may no longer be an option…
One of the coolest things about this book (and its predecessor) is how it’s set prior to WWII. We’re talking early- to mid-1930s, just as Hitler was gaining power and slowly tightening the noose around Germany. This book wonderfully highlights exactly how that takeover took place. It’s subtler than you’d expect.
And truly, Blankman did her homework. Her selected bibliography in the back is at least 4 pages long, which is insane. All the little details she infuses in the story just totally bring this time period and atmosphere to life.
On to the details you really care about! Gretchen and Daniel are an interesting couple because of how evenly matched they are. It’s really cool to read about two characters who even each other out and are the strengths to the other’s weaknesses. You can truly see how they make the other a better person. It’s really nice.
Also, there are really impressive minor characters in this book. Unfortunately, I cannot go into details without giving spoilers. Admittedly awesome people behind the spoilers, but spoilers nonetheless.
This book is really heartbreaking, but not always for the reasons you’d expect. Of course we’re talking about pre-Nazi Germany, which is not without its horrors. There is that. And violence is practically in the air at this time. But the most heartbreaking aspect for me was the hope that Gretchen and Daniel had. They were so hopeful that if they could just do this or talk to that person, they could remove the Nazis from power and get rid of Hitler. And the whole time, I just wanted to sit them down and say, “Oh, honey…” (But I think that’s my inner teacher talking.)
The only real drawback I saw to this book was how slow the beginning was. I tried multiple times to get into it, but it wasn’t working until I just forced myself to sit down and read a large chunk at once. I think part of that comes from how much time has passed since I read the first book. Take from that what you will.
Overall, it’s a hugely historic read with amazing characters. Some moments are slow (and if you know your history, you know how certain things end), but it’s a really interesting read.