Author: Pamela Schoenewaldt
Publication: William Morrow trade paperback, 2015
Genre: Historical Fiction
Plot: From the USA Today bestselling author of When We Were Strangers and Swimming in the Moon comes an intricately drawn novel set against the turmoil of the Great War, as a young German-American woman explores the secrets of her past.
A shopkeeper’s daughter, Hazel Renner lives in the shadows of the Pittsburgh steel mills. She dreams of adventure, even as her immigrant parents push her toward a staid career. But in 1914, war seizes Europe and all their ambitions crumble. German-Americans are suddenly the enemy, “the Huns.” Hazel herself is an outsider in her own home when she learns the truth of her birth.
Desperate for escape, Hazel takes a teaching job in a seemingly tranquil farming community. But the idyll is cracked when she acquires a mysterious healing power—a gift that becomes a curse as the locals’ relentless demand for “miracles” leads to tragedy.
Hazel, determined to find answers, traces her own history back to a modern-day castle that could hold the truth about her past. There Hazel befriends the exiled, enigmatic German baron and forges a bond with the young gardener, Tom. But as America is shattered by war and Tom returns battered by shell-shock, Hazel’s healing talents alone will not be enough to protect those close to her, or to safeguard her dreams of love and belonging. She must reach inside to discover that sometimes the truth is not so far away, that the simplest of things can lead to her actual place in the world.
Audience: Fans of historical fiction, those interested in World War I history, German Americans
What I liked: This is a very unusual book because it depicts an underrepresented part of American history, the pressures faced by German-Americans when World War I broke out. Most of the books I’ve read about the immigrant experience in the United States may show struggles but end triumphantly. Schoenewaldt reveals the real struggles this hardworking German couple has assimilating and doesn't promise blue skies (except in the title): Johannes Renner is an industrious shopkeeper while his wife, a gifted cook, tries to create the perfect home and raises her daughter with the belief that Hazel can achieve anything. However, the Renners’ place in the community is brutally rejected when their neighbors become unthinkingly patriotic (and, as we know, Americans continue to reject those who are different). Betsy-Tacy fans will remember how Tib Muller, about the same age as Hazel, handles news of the war:
Rocky drew on his pipe.... “We’re going to be in this war if [Wilson] doesn’t keep his head.”
Tib put down the coffee pot from which she was refilling cups.
“Don’t you mean,” she asked, “that we’re going to be in it if the Kaiser doesn’t stop sinking our ships?”
Rocky looked as surprised as though a canary had pecked him.
“See here!” he said. “What kind of talk is that from a girl named Muller?”
Tib’s eyes darkened. “It’s American talk,” she answered.
The Renners’ experience in war-torn Pittsburgh and New Jersey and how they survive the war is very absorbing, and provides an interesting contrast to Maud Hart Lovelace’s portrayal of the same time frame in Minneapolis.
What I disliked: While well worth reading, this was a very dark story full of melancholy characters and death. Hazel’s healing powers were too mysterious for me; I couldn’t grasp where they came from or why they disappeared. I also didn’t understand how Hazel could possibly return to a community that had treated her like a witch and hurt her friend. And although I admired the author for not providing a conventional happy ending, I found Tom’s lasting shellshock very depressing, albeit realistic.
Source: I received Under the Same Blue Sky from TLC Book Tours and enjoyed it. I invite you to stop by the tour to read other reviews of this book.
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