2021 Reviews · historical fiction · new release · World War II

New Release Book Review: The Woman with the Blue Star by Pam Jenoff

Title: The Woman with the Blue Star

Author: Pam Jenoff

Published: May 5th 2021

Publisher: HQ Fiction – US

Pages: 304

Genres:  Fiction, Historical

RRP: $29.99

Rating: 5 stars

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Lost Girls of Paris comes a riveting tale of unfathomable sacrifice and unlikely friendship during World War II.

1942. Sadie Gault is eighteen and living with her parents amid the horrors of the Kraków Ghetto during World War II. When the Nazis liquidate the ghetto, Sadie and her pregnant mother are forced to seek refuge in the perilous sewers beneath the city. One day Sadie looks up through a grate and sees a girl about her own age buying flowers.

Ella Stepanek is an affluent Polish girl living a life of relative ease with her stepmother, who has developed close alliances with the occupying Germans. Scorned by her friends and longing for her fiancé, who has gone off to war, Ella wanders Kraków restlessly. While on an errand in the market, she catches a glimpse of something moving beneath a grate in the street. Upon closer inspection, she realises it’s a girl hiding.

Ella begins to aid Sadie and the two become close, but as the dangers of the war worsen, their lives are set on a collision course that will test them in the face of overwhelming odds. Inspired by harrowing true stories, The Woman with the Blue Star is an emotional testament to the power of friendship and the extraordinary strength of the human will to survive.

Review:

New York Times bestselling author Pam Jenoff graces her readers with a brand new and unforgettable historical tale. A story of connection, friendship, desperation, survival, hope and resilience, The Woman with the Blue Star outlines some of best and the worst acts of humanity. It is timely reminder of the cost of war and how far many people were willing to go to save themselves, as well as their loved ones.

The Woman with the Blue Star charts the friendship of two very different women during the height in the war in Kraków. After a hooking prologue in the present day, we travel back in time to the year 1942. We meet Sadie Gault, a young woman living with her parents in fear of the war. Sadie and her family have already witnessed many horrors living in the Kraków Ghetto. But as the Nazis continue their horrific assault on the Jewish people of Kraków, Sadie’s family are forced to find an alternative place to live. A heartbreaking decision is made to leave the Ghetto and take cover underground in the sewer system of Kraków. This is a difficult decision given that Sadie’s mother is pregnant, but life above ground will only bring the Gault family imminent death. Sadie’s only hope in the face of great despair is the friendship that sparks between a young woman Sadie encounters above ground, while Sadie hides in the shadows of the sewers. These two unlikely souls spark an unfathomable bond through the grate of the sewer. We learn that this woman living above ground is Ella Stepanek, a wealthy Polish woman who has not been touched by the same horrors as her new friend.  While Ella struggles with her family relationships and romantic feelings for a man sent off to war, she connects with Sadie instantly. As the two young women grow closer, this friendship takes a dangerous turn. It will require plenty of trust, faith and hope to ensure that the two friends survive the horrors of war.

If you are in need of a powerful story to remind you of the sheer strength of the human spirit to survive and endure in the face of overwhelming diversity, The Woman with the Blue Star has you covered. Pam Jenoff is an old favourite of mine. I have followed Jenoff’s career since her I encountered her novel The Kommandant’s Girl. I have continually sought out Jenoff’s books. I do still have a few of her books sitting unread on my shelves, but I do hope that I can finish off Jenoff’s back catalogue one day! In the meantime, I really loved this new release from the bestselling author. The Woman with the Blue Star was a five-star read for me.

Based on the author’s extensive background working at the Pentagon and the US State Department, specialising in the Holocaust, we are issued with an authentic look at the impact of war on the people of Kraków. I was amazed by this previously unheard of (to me) story of Jewish families living underground in the sewers of Poland. Although this particular book is set in the sewers of Kraków, Jenoff explains in her notes that the books was inspired by the true story of a group of Jews who manage to survive in the sewers of Lviv. This really is a devastating but fascinating chapter of the war.

It is clear that Jenoff has devoted much of her time to researching this novel and bringing this incredible story to life in an engaging fictional format. I was enthralled by this tale and the depiction of life in Kraków during the height of the war. I was also taken aback by Jenoff’s descriptions of the cast that populate this novel. Jenoff ensures that we view the cast as ordinary people, wiling to do all their can to save their families from death. The descriptions put forward of Sadie made me admire this young woman greatly. I appreciated Sadie’s spirit, resolve, bravery and strength. At the same time, I liked how Jenoff balanced Sadie’s courage with her vulnerability. Sadie is one character who is tested to her very limits as the book progresses. In Sadie’s unexpected friend Ella, we see another young resident of Kraków who has an enduring spirit. Although Ella comes from a privileged background, she is still marginalised. Ella also experiences great disappointment in terms of her personal life as the narrative unfolds.  It was really interesting to see these polar opposites make a fateful and unbreakable connection. This link provides the very backbone The Woman with the Blue Star. Alongside Ella and Sadie, we have a wider cast that all contribute a great deal to the storyline. From Sadie’s fellow occupants in the sewer, to the worker sent to hide Sadie and her family, resistance figures and cruel residents of Kraków, Jenoff covers expansive character ground.

There wasn’t a moment where I my attention waned from The Woman with the Blue Star. This story is gripping, absorbing, consuming and enlightening. There are sad moments, tender sequences, tense interludes and remarkable acts performed that will have you gasping for breath. In the end, Jenoff serves up a whopping plot twist that upends the whole story, while also linking everything back to the intriguing prologue.

The Woman with the Blue Star reminds us of the heroism, human connections, trust, endurance and faith that occurred during a time where survival was the central concern of the people of Poland. Pam Jenoff has produced another number one read that I am a happy recommend to all.

The Woman with the Blue Star by Pam Jenoff was published on 5th May 2021 by HQ Fiction – US. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of The Woman with the Blue Star, Pam Jenoff, visit here.

*I wish to thank Harlequin Australia for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.

5 thoughts on “New Release Book Review: The Woman with the Blue Star by Pam Jenoff

  1. I’m glad you liked it but… she didn’t do enough research, because just from the blurb I can tell you that she got some bits VERY wrong. I know this because a former colleague of mine was actually a survivor of the sewers of Krakow, and what he told me is very different from what I’ve been reading about this novel.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very good review. I love this author’s work and I do disagree with the previous comment. This author always does great research. This book was so good. There were several of the sewer hiding places.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Actually, all of the sewers in Krakow were linked, according to my colleague who actually lived inside them. However, the idea that this girl would be anywhere near a grate when any shops were open is ludicrous, to say the least. He explained how they mostly slept during the day, and only went near the grates at night when no one was on the streets.

      Like

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