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The Nightingale - Review by Jenna, Teen Blogger


Think about a book or movie centered in World War II. Think about what the setting is, who the main characters are. I would guess that the story that popped into your mind was about a solider or nurse from an Allied country out on the front lines, or perhaps about someone in a concentration camp, because that’s the focus of most stories about World War II. However, in The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah looks at a different piece of the war that is often overlooked: the woman, particularly those in German-occupied France.

The Nightingale is a story about two sisters: Vianne, a fragile mother and wife trying to protect her family, and Isabelle, a head-strong young woman who wants to feel love. The two sisters are brought back together when the Second World War erupts, as Vianne’s husband is drafted and Isabelle is sent by her father to live with Vianne. As the war progresses, relationships and strengths are tested. The sisters face heart-breaking circumstances and frightening situations that ask just how much they’re willing to sacrifice for the ones they love and their way of life, showing that love and bravery come in many different forms.

The great thing about this novel is that it is so different from most war stories. It depicts the acts of bravery and resistance that aren’t remembered in history textbooks, and the horrors that were felt not on the front lines, but in homes. The author was inspired to write The Nightingale when she learned about an act of resistance that she later used as the base for her story. She looked further into the French resistance and even journeyed to France to walk the paths her characters would walk. Hannah did a tremendous amount of research, and you can feel the truth in her words.

The novel has another interesting aspect to its storytelling; it flits between an old woman in the present day and the two sisters in the past. It’s quite obvious from the first page that the old woman is one of the sisters. The only question is which one is it, and what happened between the beginning and end of the war that made them who they are? Hannah strategically places the flash-forwards throughout the main storyline, each with a little more of a clue to keep readers guessing.

Most importantly, this story includes complex and dynamic characters with great development. No two characters are remotely the same, no character feels flat or unrealistic, and no two characters are affected by the war in quite the same fashion. Vianne starts out as an anxious, broken, and passive woman who is completely dependent on her husband. Isabelle starts out as a rude, rebellious, independent teenager who talks a lot, but never feels like she is heard. Over the course of the war, they learn things about themselves, they adapt, and they grow, because war changes people. And Hannah articulates this very occurrence in the opening line of the book:

 “If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: in love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.”

This book is by far one of the best things I have ever read. It was captivating, unique, incredibly well-written, but most of all it made me feel what the characters felt. It completely pulled me into the story. However, I must caution that this is an upsetting and more mature novel. Personally, I like that it provokes emotions, but if you’re looking for a light, happy read, then I suggest you leave this book for another time. If you don’t mind a sad book – or are even looking for one – then I HIGHLY recommend this novel. As usual, it can be found at Halifax Public Libraries. More information about the novel, including Hannah’s reference photographs from France, information about the movie adaptation, and the story behind the book, can be found at kristinhannah.com.

Jenna,
Teen Blogger

Editor's Note: This book can be found in the Library's Adult Fiction collection.

 

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