Title: The War Outside
Author: Monica Hesse
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.
The War Outside was the August book club pick for one of the book discussions I go to; I finished it in three days. I, unfortunately, was not able to finish it the actual night of book club, so I finished it the day after. This book was so heartfelt and emotional, and the issues it brought up are still relevant today. Touching on a dark period of America’s history, The War Outside depicts the fraught relationship of two young women, locked away with their families in an internment camp. Haruko is Japanese-American, taken from her home to live with her father, who has been accused of betraying the country and passing on trade secrets. Margot is German-American, sent with her parents on suspicion that she is siding with the enemy. The girls’ lives collide in the most explosive way, ending in tragedy and betrayal. I loved every painful, topical moment of this book, because those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. Unfortunately, America has indeed been repeating history, ripping families apart and putting innocent little kids in cages. I’ll be honest: I cried through most of this book. It was so incredibly painful, and absolutely necessary. I will never forget The War Outside, and I can’t wait to read The Girl in the Blue Coat!
I liked this book a lot; historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, because it allows me to experience a time that I can’t in person. The pacing was breakneck, and I was immediately entranced by both Haruko and Margot’s voices, bitter and afraid and angry at the country who refuses to accept them because of their ancestry. I couldn’t tell if they were just friends, or if their relationship went deeper than that, but the tension and chemistry between Margot and Haruko was totally electric. I also enjoyed the cast of characters around them: both of their families, entwined with dark, dangerous secrets, and the internment camp itself, a prison dressed up in new clapboard houses, little food, and a new swimming pool. I was constantly turning pages, and when I wasn’t reading, the girls lurked in my head, attempting to lure me back into the book, regardless of what I was doing. The narrative was tinged with regret on all sides, salty and bitter, sitting like a lump in my throat. Fear itself was also a prominent character; no one in the camps trust one another, or the country that promised them all a new life, only to lock them away for things that they did not do. And the ending! I was so shocked; it was the literary equivalent to dropping a bomb. I was blown away and wasn’t expecting it at all, even after being warned! This tender, romantic and bittersweet story tells of a time that should be in our past, but alas, it is happening all over again with Mexican asylum seekers, right before our very eyes. I loved the friendship between the two young women, even as it frayed irreversibly at the end. The only thing I didn’t like was that most of the adults weren’t even listening to the girls; I didn’t like ninety percent of them. Nonetheless, Hesse has penned a breathless and unforgettable sophomore novel that casts a light on one of America’s darkest historical periods, and I will never forget it! The bottom line: Fraught with emotion and distrust, I loved The War Outside! A bittersweet, tender and topical sophomore novel, Monica Hesse has outdone herself, and I can’t wait to read The Girl in the Blue Coat! Next on deck: Pan’s Labyrinth: Labyrinth of the Faun by Guillermo Del Toro, Cornelia Funke, and Allen Williams!