I’ve been a fan of World War II literature for as long as I can remember. One of my first introductions was with the Molly American Girl series, and as I got older, Moppy, my maternal grandmother, would tell my sister and I stories of growing up in Philadelphia during the war. When I was in late elementary school, I learned more about my paternal grandmother’s story, my German grandmother, who lived in Bavaria during the war. She still refuses to talk about it and from what I gather of her experiences, her reluctance doesn’t surprise me.
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
I’m halfway through an advance copy of Elizabeth Wein’s newest book in the Verityverse, The Engima Game and it makes me want to re-read Code Name Verity so very badly. Verity is the first of what is soon to be a quartet of WWII books from Wein and I’ve enjoyed them all, but none so much as the first.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
The Nightingale was one of the first books that a customer at the bookstore told me I just had to read. They knew I liked WWII stories, but I was meh on the book at the time, having felt a little broken when the books I’d been reading set during the war were no longer making me feel anything. But when I did finally feel ready to read it, oh boy was that customer right (it’s the only time I’ve listened to a customer tell me what to read). Having a sister as well just deepened my feelings on it and I found myself crying my eyes out at the ending. It’s one of those books that everyone tells you to read, if you like the genre, that you really should read.
The Secret of Raven Point by Jennifer Vanderbes
At this point The Secret of Raven Point is getting harder and harder to find. But I can’t stop talking about it – I probably single-handedly kept it in print in the US! Well, probably not, but I tried to do what I could to keep up demand. It’s a spectacularly written tale of Juliet, a young American woman who lies about her age to get sent to Italy as a nurse to look for her brother. It’s also an in depth look at PTSD and shock and I cannot say enough positive things about it. If you can find a copy, it’s well worth a read.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Another of those WWII books that people say one must read, but for me, The Book Thief holds a more personal meaning as it is probably the closest I will ever come to truly understanding what my paternal grandmother went through in Germany during WWII. She was a year or so younger than Liesel and was sent away from her home to live with her grandparents. If she experienced half the trials and heartbreak of Liesel, it was an extreme burden for a young woman to bear.
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Last, but not least, is Ruta Sepetys breakout masterpiece, Salt to the Sea. Told in four alternating viewpoints, including that of a young German soldier, Salt to the Sea is an absolutely masterpiece of a narrative. And if you don’t already know the outcome of their journey to the Wilhelm Gustloff, try to avoid Googling or looking it up on Wikipedia until you’re done reading.