Title: They Went Left
Author: Monica Hesse
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Release Date: April 7, 2020
Germany, 1945. The soldiers who liberated the Gross-Rosen concentration camp said the war was over, but nothing feels over to eighteen-year-old Zofia Lederman. Her body has barely begun to heal; her mind feels broken. And her life is completely shattered: Three years ago, she and her younger brother, Abek, were the only members of their family to be sent to the right, away from the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Everyone else–her parents, her grandmother, radiant Aunt Maja–they went left.
Zofia’s last words to her brother were a promise: Abek to Zofia, A to Z. When I find you again, we will fill our alphabet. Now her journey to fulfill that vow takes her through Poland and Germany, and into a displaced persons camp where everyone she meets is trying to piece together a future from a painful past: Miriam, desperately searching for the twin she was separated from after they survived medical experimentation. Breine, a former heiress, who now longs only for a simple wedding with her new fiancé. And Josef, who guards his past behind a wall of secrets, and is beautiful and strange and magnetic all at once.
But the deeper Zofia digs, the more impossible her search seems. How can she find one boy in a sea of the missing? In the rubble of a broken continent, Zofia must delve into a mystery whose answers could break her–or help her rebuild her world.
When Zofia is released from a hospital, where she was recovering from her traumatic experience in a concentration camp, she returns to her home to look for her younger brother. However, she quickly discovers that her brother, Abek, is not at their home and has not returned since the war. She then goes on a journey across the country to follow hints of where her brother could have ended up.
This was a different kind of book about WWII because it takes place during the weeks following the war. Most books about that time period talk about events during the war, but they usually end when the war ends. This story shows the trauma that everyone felt following the war. Even though the war was over, people like Zofia couldn’t just return to their homes and their regular lives because there wasn’t anything left there for them.
This story was so suspenseful. There were ups and downs, when Zofia would find a clue to where her brother could be, and when she figured out that he wasn’t there. There were also gaps in Zofia’s memory, which made her unreliable at times. There were some parts of her past that she couldn’t remember, such as the last time she saw her brother. This appeared to be a form of PTSD where she had blocked out painful moments, like saying goodbye to her family. This increased the tension, because she couldn’t give a reliable account of her history.
This was an amazing and heartbreaking story.
Thank you Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
What to read next:
Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Monica Hesse is the New York Times bestselling author of Girl in the Blue Coat, American Fire, and The War Outside, as well as a columnist at The Washington Post writing about gender and its impact on society. She lives outside Washington, D.C. with her husband and their dog
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Have you read They Went Left? What did you think of it?