When I was young, World War II stories always drew me in. There’s something about Nazis that makes it seem pretty easy to pick out good guys and bad guys. I knew who to root for – the Nazis were bad and the French resistance fighters were good. There’s something comforting about knowing things fall into such simple categories. I knew if faced with that kind of evil, I would resist. We’re always the good guys when we’re kids, right?
I still enjoy reading about World War II. Even now, stories of real people from that time come out and reveal lives, loss, and resistance that was hidden or forgotten. One of the teens I worked with described his trip to the Holocaust Museum by saying, “That Hitler was one bad dude.” So, that hasn’t changed. But in fiction, there’s room to explore a little.
In Genevieve’s War, for example, some Nazis are really awful, but others seem just as trapped as Genevieve and her grandmother, who are trying to survive on a farm in Alsace. Genevieve is American, but her parents have died, and what starts as a summer vacation with Mémé turns into a years-long relocation. Under the Germans, even friends are eyed suspiciously. Who can Genevieve trust with her secrets? Will she and Mémé be exposed?
Patricia Reilly Giff explored the World War II homefront in the U.S. in Lily’s Crossing, which pairs perfectly with this story. They show different sides of the war (for Americans) and the challenges people faced. As part of a larger discussion of the war (or wars in general), they demonstrate how ordinary people live in difficult times without dwelling much on the actual violence of war. There are explosions and people are taken away to prison, for example, but the ugliness of war is felt more in the constant fear and threats against Genevieve and the village rather than in graphic descriptions.
Good guys. Bad guys. Sometimes it’s just not that simple.
Genevieve’s War by Patricia Reilly Giff