Children's Literature Bookshelf

Review: “Genevieve’s War”

“Genevieve’s War” by Patricia Reilly Giff
Holiday House, New York, 2017, 222 pages, Grades 4-6. 

War is a terrible reality in the world. It brings out the best and the worst in people. Self-centered people will seek to survive at all costs; their only concern is themselves. On the other hand, those who are outward-looking and charitable will take great risks to help other people. War usually causes people to discover their real value system. Patricia Reilly Giff has written a powerful story about war and its effects on people.

Set in Occupied France during World War II, “Genevieve’s War” is the saga of a small village struggling to cope with a powerful invader. Genevieve, the central character, is a 12-year-old girl when the story begins. The war forges her inner strength and builds her remarkable character. Giff poignantly writes about the heights that ordinary people can achieve against brutal odds.

Genevieve is an American girl visiting her grandmother in the province of Alsace in France. Her American aunt has taught her French, so there is no difficulty communicating. But having lived a pleasant life in New York, she and her brother are sent to their grandmother’s old farm in France. Genevieve can hardly believe that she is soon digging potatoes, canning fruit and taking care of farm animals. Is this any way for a pampered American girl to act?

Meanwhile, all the talk is of the impending German attack on France. The grandmother buys a train ticket for each of the grandchildren to send them back to the United States. She knows this will keep the children safe. But Genevieve sees her grandmother is injured and refuses to board the train. Genevieve realizes that she should leave, but can’t bring herself to abandon her grandmother.

Soon after returning to the farm, the German Army crushes France and occupies Alsace. A German officer walks up to the house and informs the grandmother that he will be staying at her house and will take the best bedroom. Fortunately, he leaves every day.

The occupation grows increasingly brutal with deportations of Jewish families and young men needed for German industry. People begin turning on their neighbors to gain favors from the Germans. Who can you trust?

The French Underground Resistance begins organizing. They begin attacking German installations and blow up a railroad depot. But there are French causalities in the attack. Genevieve’s dear friend is one of the causalities. She knows that she must do whatever it takes to save him. But what can a young teenage girl do against the German Third Reich? What does she do?

Does Genevieve save her friend? Do the German police figure out who was behind the bombing? Where does Genevieve find her undaunted courage? How does she learn that loving people is worth the physical risks involved? To find out the answers to these and other questions, go to the library and check out this outstanding book about courage and bravery.

Patricia Reilly Giff is a famous author of children’s literature. She has written Newbery Honor books such as “Lily’s Crossing” and popular series fiction. “Genevieve’s War” shows the depth of her ability to create compelling characters in a tense situation. The book was a cover-to-cover read for me, as I had to find out what happened to Genevieve and the other characters in the story.

Giff is truthful about the wretched conditions the French find themselves in during the occupation, but she also gives readers hope for a better future throughout the novel. I hope you get the chance to read this marvelous book and that you encourage your younger family members to do the same. Genevieve can teach all of us how to act with grace under fire.

Terrence Nollen

 

 

 

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