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

Posted May 6, 2021 by meezcarrie in historical, Pam Jenoff / 6 Comments

GENRE: Historical Fiction
RELEASE DATE: May 4, 2021
PAGES: 336

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

1942. Sadie Gault is eighteen and living with her parents in 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 tunnels 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. While on an errand in the market, she catches a glimpse of something moving beneath a grate in the street. Upon closer inspection, she realizes 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 incredible true stories, The Woman with the Blue Star is an unforgettable testament to the power of friendship and the extraordinary strength of the human will to survive.

“Because when people look back on the history of this time, at what happened, they should see that we tried to do something.”

Oh my heart. This book broke it to pieces and then gently put it back together, a little tender from the process but for the better. There were moments I wept, moments I smiled (despite the ever-present ache for these characters), and moments I even swooned a little. And most of all I fell in love with each of the major players in this story – their courage, their humanity, their hearts – and was struck by the parallels and juxtapositions between their tale and our current world.

The Woman with the Blue Star gripped me from the very first chapter and held me in rapt attention until the bittersweet end. I’ve read a lot of WW2 fiction, much of it written around the Jewish perspective of events and the variety of conditions in which they fought to survive. But I’ve never been introduced to conditions quite like these, and I am still recovering from the new awareness of such stunning situations and such brave resilience. The scene where Sadie and her pregnant mother realize that to survive, after already so great a loss, they must hide for an indeterminate time … in the sewers …. Y’all. I can’t even describe how my mind & heart & spirit viscerally reacted to this knowledge on their behalf.

That, because you are labeled with a blue star, forced upon you by an enemy who wants to eradicate you for your heritage, you must leave your comfortable and joy-filled lifestyle to be imprisoned in a ghetto where random arrests & killings are the norm. To then live for who knows how long in nearly complete darkness, with smells we do everything to avoid in our comfortable world. Sewage water all around you, soaking your clothing and shoes, seeping into your pores. Filth you can never escape. Forced to eat food that goes against your religion. Food dependent on the continued concern of a rescuer – and on the rescuer’s continued safety. All just to ensure you and your loved ones – and a remnant of your people – survive when so many others have not. I don’t think my safe, comfortable American lifestyle can truly comprehend the horror of such a change in circumstance. Even in the middle of a pandemic when circumstances have changed all around us, we are still so far removed from conditions like those Sadie, her mother, the family who escaped with them (and the actual, non-fictional others like them) had to endure.

Lest you think this book is heavier than you can bear, let me assure you that there is a thread of hope that lets in light to illuminate the darkness. In fact, those rays of light look an awful lot like sunshine flickering through a sewer grate to the murky blackness below. It looks like a hand reaching down to the pit – and a hand reaching up – in friendship and compassion. It looks like people of great courage enduring the unimaginable to conquer what seems to be an impossible opponent. It looks like sacrificial love, and it looks like the best of humanity standing strong even when the worst of humanity seems to be winning. Your heart may be bruised a bit from the reading of this beautiful story – it should be bruised a bit – but it will also swell with joy in the end. Because true Hope never disappoints us.

Bottom Line: There were so many moments in The Woman with the Blue Star when I held my breath, not knowing what would happen next or who would survive… or who was the modern-day woman in the prologue? Pam Jenoff expertly weaves together a multi-layered tale with a distinct skill that reminded me why I loved The Orphan’s Tale so much too. The smartly-written, shifting first person narrative connected me on a personal level with these characters, putting me in someone else’s shoes for a while, and their imprint will linger on my heart for a long time to come. This is a story not easily forgotten, and one that everyone needs to read.

(I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book which I received from the publisher. All views expressed are only my honest opinion.)

My Rating: 5 stars / fantastic read on every level!

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Pam Jenoff is the author of several books of historical fiction, including the NYT bestseller The Orphan’s Tale. She holds a degree in international affairs from George Washington University and a degree in history from Cambridge, and she received her JD from UPenn. Her novels are inspired by her experiences working at the Pentagon and as a diplomat for the State Department handling Holocaust issues in Poland. She lives with her husband and 3 children near Philadelphia, where she teaches law.

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6 responses to “Book Review: The Woman with the Blue Star by Pam Jenoff

  1. Jeanne Bishop

    I have loved Pam Jenoff’s books since I first read “The Kommandant’s Girl”. She has become a favorite author.

  2. Winnie Thomas

    I need to read this! It sounds so intriguing! Thanks for the beautiful review, Carrie!

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