River in the Sea
By: Tina Boscha
At fifteen, Leen De Graaf likes everything she shouldn’t: smoking cigarettes, wearing red lipstick, driving illegally, and working in the fields. It seems the only thing she shares with her fellow Dutchmen is a fear of the German soldiers stationed nearby and a frantic wish for the war to end. When a soldier’s dog runs in front of Leen’s truck, her split-second reaction sets off a storm of events that pitches her family against the German forces when they are most desperate – and fierce. Leen tries to hold her family together, but despite her efforts, bit by bit everything falls apart, and just when Leen experiences a horrific loss, she must make a decision that could forever brand her a traitor, yet finally allow her to live as her heart desires. Inspired by the life of the author’s mother, River in the Sea is a powerful and moving account of one girl reaching adulthood when everything she believes about family, friendship, and loyalty is questioned by war.
First let me start off by saying that while I do like historical fiction, I usually prefer my time setting to be a bit further back. However with Boscha's story I was drawn in from the first. I really loved this book. Boscha told a beautifully moving story of a time that was horrible and cruel. Especially to it's youth, a large portion of which was forced to grow up way sooner than it should have. There is an especially moving part where Leen and her sisters are hiding upstairs while her father is speaking with German soldiers. Her sister immediately quiets when her mother places her hand over her mouth. Her sister is only a child, but her first Razzia, when soldiers would come to round up people, was when she was a baby and she was, as Leen says, "born into war". So she knows to stay quiet and wait just like the adults.
The story is told through the eyes of Leen De Graaf. It is set in the Netherlands near the end of World War II. Of course for Leen and the rest of the people in her life, they hear constantly about the "end of the war" and have begun to lose hope that the end will ever come. The males in her life live in constant fear that they will be rounded up and carted off in one of the numerous Razzia. This leads Leen to take work for a family in a nearby town to help make ends meet. Poor Leen, because of the war circumstances and events completely beyond her control, she ends up being in the wrong place at the wrong time. However it WAS her decision to slam on the gas instead of the brakes, which leads to her killing the German soldier's dog. Up until that point her family seemed to at least be relatively safe from the atrocities that had surrounded them. Which leads Leen to believe that she is the main cause of the events that happen after her 'accident'. Hindsight is always 20/20, and knowing from history the horrors that occurred during the war, I read the book with the knowledge that whether Leen had hit the dog or not, the things that happened afterward would still probably have happened. But Leen doesn't know this, and she blames herself for her father going into hiding for pretty much every other bad thing that happens after that. There were times in the story I wanted to cry for her for that reason alone. It doesn't help that her one and only friend is possibly working with the Germans which causes Leen to blame herself even more.
The authors descriptions of the times and the places in her story really bring the work to life as well. I could see the cold grey camp where the soldiers where stationed. I could feel Leen's terror as she went by it, and her frustration and heartache as she is forced to watch her world disintegrate around her. The war, while being an obviously important part to the novel is not the novel itself. Which is one of the reasons I think I enjoyed it so much.
The only real complaint I have is that the end just seemed to come too quickly. I would have loved to find out more of Leen's life between the end of the war and when she decides to go to America. I also would liked to have found out more of what happens to her friends Minne and Jakob. Don't take that to mean the end of the story was bad. It was a good end to a great story, I would just like read more.
I would definitely read more of the authors work if given the chance.
*****In compliance with FTC guidelines, I'm disclosing that I received this book for free through GoodReads First Reads. ****
(I recommend everybody should go check out all the awesome first read giveaways they have!)