Tag Archives: WWII

Girl in the Blue Coat, by Monica Hesse

Girl in the Blue CoatGirl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is historical fiction set in World War II Amsterdam. Our protagonist is Hanneke, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed teenager who works as a receptionist for an undertaker – but is really part of the undertaker’s extensive black market smuggling operation. When one of Hanneke’s regular black market customers asks for Hanneke’s help finding a missing Jewish teen (the Girl in the Blue Coat), Hanneke uncovers a resistance group and begins to understand the war on a whole new level. I liked the characters in this book and always enjoy seeing historical fiction told from an unexpected perspective. Don’t miss the interesting author notes at the end of the book that touch on Ms. Hesse’s extensive research for this novel. ~ Ms. Steiger

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Student Review: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand (Reviewed by Rachel N.)

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and RedemptionUnbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The book Unbroken, is about an Olympic athlete named Louis Zamperini who overcomes the obstacles of his childhood life and war time. He didn’t fit in with the town he lived in because he was Italian and a thief. But his brother Pete convinced him that he wasn’t just merely nothing in the world like Louis thought he was.

Zamperini joined the track team in high school. He became the youngest athlete to beat the national record, and ended up competing in the Berlin Olympics, meeting Adolf Hitler himself. Zamperini joined the military after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and survived 46 days at sea after crashing.

The next two years after being rescued, he endured pain and suffering in Japanese POW (Prisoner of War) camps. Zamperini was frequently beaten by a Japanese man named, Watanabe, but known infamously as “the bird.” He even had the opportunity to talk on a Japanese radio talk show to inform the United States that he was indeed alive.

He managed to stay optimistic in the worst of conditions throughout WWII, and finally returned home after the war ended. He never competed in running again but held the torch and ran in the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan at the age of 80. Although he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, he was able to stop having bad dreams after committing himself to god. Zamperini got married and had two children. He died at the age of 97 even after all the things he has been through including malnourishment and his drinking problem.

The author, Laura Hillenbrand, described Zamperini’s life so vividly it was like you were along side him the whole entire way through the 408 page book (which has pictures, wow! A chapter book with pictures, how exciting!). If you don’t like long books and aren’t interested in reading about someone who fought in the war, I do not recommend this book to you. Then again, you can always watch the movie adaptation directed by Angelina Jolie. This book was definitely a good read nonetheless even though non-fiction is not a genre I like, this book was a page-turner (literally I read it in 3 days). I also watched the movie and it was definitely bringing the book to life, but was did not live up to my expectations.~Student Rachel N.

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Student Review: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand (Reviewed by Kayla B.)

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and RedemptionUnbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Unbroken” is the true story of Louis (Louie) Zamperini, a young Olympic runner from Torrance, California, who was called into service during World War II. Zamperini was part of a bomber crew in the Pacific. When his plane goes down in the Pacific Ocean, he and two other survivors drift for over forty days, hoping to be found. With terrible luck they were discovered by the Japanese navy, they are then captured as prisoners of war.

The book follows Louis’ journey from one prisoner camp to the next, documenting his encounters with “he Bird”, a ruthless guard that relentlessly tortures Zamperini. This inspiring book shows the determination of Louis to survive after experiencing many mentally and physically straining events.

Although I dislike reading most nonfiction books, “Unbroken” caught me by surprise. A pleasant surprise. The topic of WWII was quite heavy, but proved inspiring throughout the course of the book. Hillenbrand does an excellent job of incorporating historical facts in a seamless way by creating a big picture of the war, but at the same time narrowing the view of the story specifically to Zamperini’s personal experience. The lack of statistics proved to my liking because the flow of the book stayed constant in the book’s entirety. The use of pictures was also helpful and engaging because it helped create a picture in my mind to go along with the story I was reading. Hillenbrand did an excellent job with “Unbroken,” the only unappealing aspect to some readers could be the length of the book, but depending on how engaged you are, the length is barely a problem at all.~Student: Kayla B.

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Student Review: The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank (reviewed by Rachel N.)

The Diary of a Young GirlThe Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I began reading The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank thinking it would be interesting, but also worrying that the only thing in the book would be about the war. Once I was past the second chapter, I was pleasantly surprised. Not only was it interesting and factual, but I could also relate to it. I always thought that teenage girls in the 1940’s were very different than teenage girls today. It turns out, Anne Frank and I have a lot in common! For example, we share the same birthday, we like being mature young adults, and we both like cats! What I realized while reading this book is that Jews in the 40’s in Europe were similarly treated like Black people in the 50’s and 60’s in the USA. Both Jews and Black people have to go to separate schools, live in the rundown part of towns, and are not allowed to do certain activities. I expected the Franks to be sitting around in fear for two years while they were hiding from the Nazis. Instead, they made the most of the small space and went on with their lives. That surprised me. One last thing about this book that I enjoyed is the fact that it is a true story told by a real Holocaust victim. Most ways that I learn about the Holocaust is from Hebrew school and textbooks. This was raw and real, which I loved. I’m sad that the Franks were betrayed and arrested by the Nazis, and that most of them were killed. Overall, this was a great book, and I would highly recommend it to people who are interested in learning about the Holocaust in a unique way. ~ Student: Rachel N.

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Student Review: The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank (Reviewed by Emily D.)

The Diary of a Young GirlThe Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This piece of literature is a great book to read as a young, teenage girl, and I would recommend it to anyone. The book’s author is Anne Frank, who is posthumously one of the most famous figures of Jewish life when the Nazis occupied the Netherlands. The diary was originally a gift for her thirteenth birthday, but seventy-three years later it has sold millions of copies and has been translated into more than 60 languages. It glances into her life in hiding above her father’s office with seven other people: the van Daans, Mr. Dussel, her parents, and her sister. In this diary she shared her innermost thoughts of those surrounding her and her own personal feelings of love, loneliness, and loss.

I was surprised on how deep and thoughtful Anne was in her diary. Previously I had assumed that the book would be full of facts on how the Nazis were invading the Netherlands, but after reading it I know that I was wrong. The facts and timeline of the war are beautifully integrated into the story, thus creating a vivid historical context for the story to unfold in. Hiding indoors from those who want you dead for two years changes one’s perspective and thoughts on life, and since Anne is a young adolescent, these thoughts are only intensified. She often expresses her thoughts on boys and sex, which are sometimes vulgar, but are expected as a teenager. As the reader you witness her blossom into a bright young woman with opinions from an innocent child, which is a change that I would hope every woman to witness in their life.~Student: Emily D.

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Student Review: The Hiding Place, by Corrie ten Boom (reviewed by Paola S.)

The Hiding PlaceThe Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Hiding Place is a true story during WWII and shows us that faith is a powerful thing that can be used in times of hardship.

Corrie ten Boom is the daughter of a watchmaker in Holland who lives her life simply, assisting around the house and the watch shop until she reaches 50 years of age. Once the German’s take Holland, her responsibilities change. Without warning she becomes the head of the underground in Haarlem, Holand, finding desperate Jews places to hide and creating a family of those in need in her own home, the Beje. All the while her family is very religious, Bible readings both in the morning and before bed is a norm and looked forward to by all.

One day the home is raided by German soldiers and her sisters Betsie and Nollie, her older brother Willem, her Father Casper ten Boom and herself are arrested along with other workers from the underground, yet her Jewish roommates are not found in the safe room.

From there on the story follows Corrie as she is sent from one prison, to a camp and then another living in terrible conditions and fighting off various diseases, the whole time using her faith to forgive others, preach from a small Bible that God loves all of those who are imprisoned as she is and lets her be thankful for the things she has. Although she loses some family members along the way, she is released ten brutal months after her arrest and welcomed home. She then opens a rehabilitation center for those scarred from long periods of time in the prison camps, always emphasizing the love that God has for us.

It is a biography that is well worth reading and although it is nonfiction it seems like it could be a fictional story, using facts to improve the plot and inform the reader without us [the reader] knowing. I highly recommend this story if you are at all interested in World War two, faith or simply want a good read.~Student: Paola S.

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All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot SeeAll the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book makes it to my top 25 list, perhaps higher, and I didn’t even want to read it. It was selected for my book club, and it’s historical fiction set during WWII. I don’t enjoy reading about war, and I feel I’ve already read the some of the best WWII works of fiction: Stones from the River, The Book Thief, Suite Française. How could another top these? Plus, it’s over 500pp. That’s a commitment I wasn’t keen on making. Now, I wish it had been longer. I wish I was still reading, and living with its wonderful characters, sensing every stimulus in their unique environment. The story follows the parallel lives of two children: Marie-Laure in France and Werner in Germany. Both children are intellectually curious and consequently filled with promise, but the odds of realizing their potential are stacked highly against them. Marie-Laure goes blind at the age of 6, and Werner is growing up in an orphanage in a mining town during the rise of the Third Reich. Marie-Laure lives with her father, the locksmith and keeper of the keys for the prestigious National Museum of Natural History, who builds scale models of their neighborhood for Marie-Laure to read like Braille in order to navigate independently with her cane. On the eve of the Nazi invasion of Paris the pair evacuate to the coastal island of St. Malo in Brittany to live with Marie-Laure’s great uncle who suffers from PTSD and agoraphobia stemming from his time in WWI. Werner uses his innate gift for engineering to repair radios, ultimately securing coveted admission to a military training school for Nazi youth. The story alternates perspectives between the pair and shifts back and forth in time, gradually revealing how their paths will ultimately cross. Doerr adds to the sense of mystery and sprinkles in a touch of mysticism by sharing the provenance of a cursed diamond held in the museum and sought by the Nazis as the ultimate trophy of war. The enthralling nature of the story and the depth and complexity of characters are enough to earn this book 4 stars, but it’s the prose that secures the fifth. Doerr’s writing is exquisite and highly sensory. Having a blind character enables the author to maximize the use of the other four senses in his descriptions in such a way as to fully transport the reader into the heart of the story. The historical truths at the core of this novel are also sensitively rendered, allowing the reader to witness the psychological terror central to the Nazi apparatus. There are so many reasons to read this: to learn more about Nazi Germany and the French Resistance; to solve a mystery about a treasured gem; to spend time with enjoyable, inspiring and deeply human characters; and to read some of the most beautiful prose of our era. Try it, you won’t regret it. ~ Ms Dimmick

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In the Garden of the Beasts, by Erik Larson

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's BerlinIn the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In The Garden of the Beasts by Erik Larson is the well-researched story of the build up of Hitler’s power in Nazi Germy as witnessed by an American diplomatic family posted to Berlin in 1933. Ambassador Dodd is an unassuming academic from Chicago and Roosevelt’s fourth or fifth choice for the unpopular post. Dodd is ill-prepared to respond to pressures from both sides: the American government wants him to ensure that the Germans make good on their debt to the US, and the German government wants him to suppress U.S. protests against Germany’s anti-Semitic regime. By contrast, Dodd’s grown daughter, Martha, is anything but unassuming. Martha recklessly engages in a series of dangerous liaisons first with Nazi officials, and later with a Soviet communist, shifting her loyalties only after the true nature of the Nazi regime becomes impossible for her to ignore. The story was pieced together through painstaking research into the characters’ lives and is liberally sprinkled with excerpts from their communications and personal diaries. While the author successfully evokes the tension of the era and clearly illustrates the willful ignorance practiced by so many eye-witnesses to the fomentation of Hitler’s power, he lost me fairly early in the book. Despite its potential, the story seemed to drag, haltingly inserting extraneous details that demonstrate the author’s authority on the subject but that add little to the appeal of the story. Larson also uses a heavy hand to forebode future events such that they are almost anticlimactic by the time they occur. This book has received very positive reviews from others, so perhaps my experience stems from a preference for fiction over nonfiction or my familiarity with the events chronicled in this book. I would recommend this to those who are interested in learning more about the build up to World War II and the Nazis rise to power. ~ Ms Dimmick

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Student Review: Nisei Daughter, by Monica Itoi Sone (reviewed by Helen H.)

Nisei DaughterNisei Daughter by Monica Itoi Sone

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Everyone knows that during WWII, Germany’s treatment on its prisoners were gruesome but what about the other side? In history class we constantly hear the descriptive horrid conditions that the Germans and Japanese inflicted on its enemies but we never hear about how America treated their prisoners during WWII. What kind of treatment did the people in America who had German or Japanese blood in them received? In the novel, Nisei Daughter by Monica Sone, it gives a small glimpse on the difficulty of dealing with two cultures; especially when those two cultures go to war against each other. Monica always had a hard time balancing her Japanese heritage and being an American. Throughout the novel we see how her family struggled against discrimination when they were renting houses or getting jobs. That discrimination and racism worsen when Pearl Harbor happened. Being Japanese, Monica was viewed as an enemy by a place she called her home. The government striped her of all her possessions and forced her and her family into camps where the people suffered from the harsh weather to food poisoning. Many may be shocked that this happened in America but it just shows that we need to know more about America and its ugly secrets. This is a great book for showing the journey of finding a balance within yourself between two cultures that are very different from each other. If you like books on assimilation and 2nd generation immigrants then other books you may be interested in are Bento box in the Heartland by Linda Furiya and Daughter of the Samurai by Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto. If you are more interested in struggles and the injustice America had on its minority then I would recommend To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and The Land by Mildred D. Taylor. ~ Student: Helen H.

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Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and RedemptionUnbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an amazing, epic story of a life of mischief, achievement, endurance, deprivation and survival. It is this sort of narrative nonfiction story telling that can convert even the most ardent of fiction loyalists, because sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction. Louis Zamperini spends his young life as a trouble-making but beloved son of poor Italian immigrants in California. When his older brother successfully channels Louis’ wayward energy into competitive running, Zamperini ultimately qualifies for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. This is where an ominous brush with the Nazis presages future encounters with evil in the imminent war. Zampirini is forced to abandon his Olympic career prematurely as the US is pulled into WWII, and finds himself a reluctant bombardier flying over the Pacific (he hated planes). This is when the book gets really exciting, as the reader is taken on harrowing missions in unreliable B-24s with Zamperini and his committed crew, until they finally crash in shark infested waters. From here things go from bad to worse, as Zamperini endures unspeakable deprivation and abuse, first as a starving plane crash survivor drifting endlessly into enemy territory, and then as a Japanese POW who becomes the target of a psychotic prison warden. How anyone could have survived all of this and remain “unbroken” by it is a wondrous mystery that can only be revealed by reading this biography. While I agree with the critics who say that despite her clearly meticulous research, Hillenbrand may have relied too heavily on embellished or selective memories provided to her by Zamperini himself, I must say that it only added to the power of the story for me. ~ Ms. Dimmick

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