Woman with the Blue Star

”The Woman with the Blue Star” by Pam Jenoff, c.2021, Park Row Books, $17.99, 336 pages.

Unthinkable.

That’s what this situation is: unthinkable, with a line you won’t cross no matter what. You’ve thought about it, considered all possible solutions, studied this whole thing from many angles and in the end, there’s just no way. But as in the new novel, “The Woman with the Blue Star” by Pam Jenoff, never say “never.”

At eighteen years old, Sadie Gault was hardly a child anymore.

Still, as her mother argued, Sadie was small and looked years younger than she was. She was small enough to hide in the attic from the German soldiers, small enough to fit into a clothing trunk. Sadie’s Papa said that it was better not to hide, better that she get registered, that the Germans weren’t taking Jewish workers, but there was always that danger...

And when that danger arrived, it came swiftly: Sadie had just moments to pack a small bag before she and her parents disappeared beneath their building’s toilet, under the floor and into the sewer, where they hoped the Germans would never think to look for them.

From the moment her father brought Ana Lucia home, nineteen-year-old Ella Stepanek knew she’d never get along with her new stepmother. She sensed that Ana Lucia couldn’t be trusted, a sentiment that was proven when Ella’s father went missing-presumed-dead and Ana Lucia began entertaining German soldiers in her home soon afterwards.

That was something Ella couldn’t tolerate, but she had no one to discuss it with. Everybody knew that Ana Lucia was a collaborator, and they scattered when they saw Ella. Ella’s lover, Krys, had broken up with her before leaving for battle. She had no one – and so, to escape her home, Ella went on long walks, keeping her eyes cast downward.

But one day, her eyes met another pair through the sewer grate, and Ella was moved to help the girl named Sadie. She brought Sadie food and hope, but Kraków was becoming a perilous place, both above ground and below...

When you read the word “sewer” in a story, you know that’s not gonna be a good thing, right? And that’s true here: while “The Woman with the Blue Star” is based on real events, that won’t stop your imagination from running free.

Still, author Pam Jenoff asks readers to ignore a little novelish contrivednes, to forget about the things their modern minds leap at, and to focus on the tale here. It’s a big request – let’s face the Ick Factor – but it’s not a hard one for you to grant since Jenoff’s characters are very solid, the situation is authentic – Jenoff, in fact, explains in her acknowledgments how she researched this book, to ensure that the basic facts are true – and the story’s tension is in the stratosphere.

Get familiar with the edge of your seat because that’s where you’ll be for much of this novel. Wait for the twists inside here, because they’re coming. If you’re a fan of historical novels or Pam Jenoff, missing “The Woman with the Blue Star” is unthinkable.

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