In 1930s Munich, danger lurks behind dark corners, and secrets are buried deep within the city. But Gretchen Müller, who grew up in the National Socialist Party under the wing of her “uncle” Dolf, has been shielded from that side of society ever since her father traded his life for Dolf’s, and Gretchen is his favorite, his pet.
Uncle Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler. And Gretchen follows his every command.
Until she meets a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter named Daniel Cohen. Gretchen should despise Daniel, yet she can’t stop herself from listening to his story: that her father, the adored Nazi martyr, was actually murdered by an unknown comrade. She also can’t help the fierce attraction brewing between them, despite everything she’s been taught to believe about Jews.
As Gretchen investigates the very people she’s always considered friends, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Will she choose the safety of her former life as a Nazi darling, or will she dare to dig up the truth—even if it could get her and Daniel killed?
From debut author Anne Blankman comes this harrowing and evocative story about an ordinary girl faced with the extraordinary decision to give up everything she’s ever believed . . . and to trust her own heart instead.
Prisoner of Night and Fog was one of my most anticipated releases of 2014. I am a huge fan of books that take place during World War II, and while this one isn’t quite that – it’s set in 1931 before Hitler’s rise to Chancellor of Germany – it does give a first-hand account of what life was like in Munich at that time. The narrator, Gretchen, has grown up hearing Hitler’s diatribes against Jews and those considered “less” than her own Aryan bloodline, and has followed along blindly, never even thinking about doing anything else. So while this book is definitely political, it is also about a girl’s journey to become her own person, and every single thing about it was just absolutely amazing to read.
It’s fairly clear even from the start that Gretchen is a little different than her family. The first time we meet her, she interrupts her brother, Reinhard, and his friend while they are beating up a Jew who was crossing the street and nearly “made” them crash their car. Her reasoning for this is that Hitler himself has said that the National Socialists must comport themselves with dignity, and brawling in the street is not dignified. But we soon learn that this wasn’t the only reason – Gretchen has compassion, which is something many characters in this book are severely lacking. Much of the beginning of this book details Gretchen’s daily existence, from helping her mother in the boarding house they live in (and her mother manages), to getting invited by Hitler (who is a family friend) to cafes or outings with his niece, Geli, to trying to avoid her brother and his very scary tendencies to react violently to anything and everything. And even though those things could become monotonous, they didn’t, mostly because Gretchen herself is actually a very likable narrator whom you feel for from the start. She’s just different, in a very good way, and I loved getting a chance to know her before the main part of the book is introduced.
As with any YA, the change is introduced in the form of Daniel, a Jewish reporter for the Munich Post who knows a secret about Gretchen’s father’s death. From the get-go, sparks fly between the two, although that’s in the form of glares and dislike, at least initially. But Gretchen figures out pretty quickly that Daniel’s actually telling the truth, and so they create a bit of a wary alliance to help each other get to the truth. Of course, along the way, Gretchen realizes that Daniel really isn’t any different than she is, and that’s when her actual journey into adulthood really kicks into high gear. While I always like when a character can figure things out on their own without help (particularly from a boy), that honestly wouldn’t have happened here without Daniel’s influence. Gretchen was just too ingrained in what she’d been taught to ever think about questioning Hitler or her family without that outside push. Also, their relationship is just perfect – very slow-burning, Gretchen slowly becoming more of her own person, becoming more daring, more curious, and allowing her real self to shine through. Daniel may have been the catalyst, but much of Gretchen’s decision-making comes from inside herself, and it was a very wonderful thing to read about.
The action of this book was also first-rate. While the last quarter of the book or so was when things really ramped up, there’s a sense of danger throughout, which just nicely set the tone. The gritty, dark atmosphere of 1931 Munich also helped, making it easy to see the setting and really place yourself into the story. The book also had a really nice flow to the words, drawing the reader in and making me eager to continue reading until the book was done. And then the actual climax comes along and you’re not able to put the book aside at all; I was very much on the edge of my seat with my heart racing as everything came to a head!
Prisoner of Night and Fog is not only a historical read, but a coming of age story that also manages to incorporate romance in an amazing way (and how often do we say that in YA these days?). It’s really a book about a girl finding herself and being willing to let go of what she thought she knew to figure who she wants to be. While it is the first in what I assume is a trilogy (correct me if I’m wrong!), it’s also fresh and different and amazingly written, and I wholeheartedly recommend it!
An e-galley was provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.