Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse
Amsterdam, 1943. Hanneke spends her days procuring and delivering sought-after black market goods to paying customers, her nights hiding the true nature of her work from her concerned parents, and every waking moment mourning her boyfriend, who was killed on the Dutch front lines when the Germans invaded. She likes to think of her illegal work as a small act of rebellion.
On a routine delivery, a client asks Hanneke for help. Expecting to hear that Mrs. Janssen wants meat or kerosene, Hanneke is shocked by the older woman's frantic plea to find a person--a Jewish teenager Mrs. Janssen had been hiding, who has vanished without a trace from a secret room. Hanneke initially wants nothing to do with such dangerous work, but is ultimately drawn into a web of mysteries and stunning revelations that lead her into the heart of the resistance, open her eyes to the horrors of the Nazi war machine, and compel her to take desperate action.
Hanneke looks like a poster girl for the Nazi party with her long limbs, blonde hair, clear skin, and good health. Hanneke isn't a member of the Nazi party nor a Nazi sympathizer, when the story begins her rebellion is limited to serving as a courier and procurer in Amsterdam's black market. She works her job at the funeral home and continues with her deliveries; she knows she isn't part of the resistance, but sees her blackmarket work as subverting Nazi rules. She's in mourning for the loss of her boyfriend who died fighting the German advance.
When one of her best customers asks her to search for a missing girl, Hanneke's first reaction is to refuse. Searching for a missing Jewish girl while under Nazi occupation is a huge step from finding sausages and cigarettes, but Hanneke begins to care for about the missing fifteen-year-old. Hanneke reaches out to friends and gets her first exposure to the Resistance and learns more about the dirty secrets of the occupation. Hanneke finds it harder and harder to keep her old life together.
Monica Hesse drew me into the story of Hanneke and her life under Nazi rule. She gives us a glimpse into Amsterdam and the constraints that the Dutch faced. When Hesse tells the story of the collaborators and the Resistance, she does it from the point of view of a practical, sympathetic, charismatic fifteen-year-old girl, Hesse makes this horrible time in history come alive in clear detail. Girl in the Blue Coat is a lovely read!
About the Author:
Monica Hesse is a features writer at The Washington Post, where she writes widely-shared longform pieces and has covered royal weddings, dog shows, political campaigns, and White House state dinners. Monica has talked about those stories and others on NBC, MSNBC, CNN, CSPAN, FOX, and NPR. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband and their dog.