Readers who think historical fiction is blah or boring STOP RIGHT THERE! This list of books, set in Nazi Occupied France, is filled with fast paced adventure, high stakes thrills, nail biting tension, whirlwind romance and daredevil girls who are cool under pressure.
A 2013 Michael L. Printz Honor Book, Code Name Verity (2012) is hands down one the most thrilling historical fiction novels I've read in years. Set in France and England in 1943, it is the story of two young British women, a spy and a pilot, who are working with the French Resistance against the Nazis.
The book opens with the spy, Verity having been captured and tortured for weeks by the local Gestapo (Nazi police). She's a broken woman and in exchange for no more torture she has agreed to give the Germans information about British spy operations and their wireless codes. As she writes her story though you get the feeling that she's not telling them everything. In fact, she may not even be telling them her own story but the story of her friend Maddie, the pilot. As you read you begin to realize that Verity is a very unreliable narrator and that she is playing a very dangerous game with her jailers.
Halfway through the book, Maddie begins to tell her own story of life in France. After their plane crash landed, Verity and Maddie parted ways. Maddie must try and get home to England- all the while wondering if Verity is okay. This is a harrowing tale of uncommon bravery, unforgettable friendship and ordinary girls doing extraordinary things in a time of war. The writing will have you on the edge of your seat, grabbing the book with both hands. It is that un-put-down-able!
If you are like me, it may also have you compulsively searching the shelves for read-alikes and more information about British spies and the French Resistance in German-occupied France, 1939-1945.
For younger teens there is For Freedom: The Story of a French Spy (2003). Based on a true story, when Suzanne's hometown is bombed by the Germans she becomes a courier of secret messages for the Resistance.
In Under a War Torn Sky (2001), young American pilot Henry Forrester is shot down over German occupied France. Injured and scared, he must rely on the kindness and cunning of local Resistance fighters to evade the Nazis as he makes his way to freedom.
For graphic novel readers there is the Resistance trilogy (Resistance #1, Defiance #2, Victory #3) (2010-2012). Set in Vichy France (the southern part of France aka "Free France"), it is the tale of three siblings who fight with the Resistance and help their neighbors all under the watchful eye of the local Gestapo and French collaborators.
For those wanting more romance with their thrills there's Violins of Autumn (2012). Sixteen-year-old Betty is an American girl living in England when war breaks out. She lies about her age and ends up training to be a spy for Britain. Now known as Adele, she's dropped into France with another girl, Denise, to work with the Resistance. Through her adventures she finds true friendship with Denise and falls in love with a downed American pilot. All the while, she is in constant danger of being captured by the Gestapo.
For older teens, the libraries' adult section has a lot of great fiction and non-fiction books on the subject too. Foremost is the exceptional novel Charlotte Gray (1998). When the pilot she loves is shot down over Occupied France, a young Scottish woman joins British Intelligence and is sent to France to work for the Resistance. While there she searches for her lost love and helps the local villagers (it's also, a great film).
Partly set in the present day, in The Girl in the Blue Beret (2012), an American ex-WWII pilot returns to France to trace what happened to him when he was forced to crash land in Belgium. Forced to rely on the kindness of ordinary citizens, the young pilot was helped through enemy territory to safety. In particular, he remembers the girl in the blue beret who guided him through occupied Paris.
Suite Française (2007) by Irene Nemirovsky was written in 1942 but remained unpublished until 2004. The author, a Jew, was arrested and sent to the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz where she died before she could finish it. Set in 1940 it is a series of interconnected stories depicting life in France just after the German invasion. From the flight of citizens from Paris to life in a small, provincial French village. It is poignant and powerful.
For those who want more truth than fiction, there are many fascinating non-fiction choices. Told through original sources and interviews, A Train in Winter (2011) is the heartbreaking true story of 230 ordinary French women: teachers, students, housewives, opera singers... et al, all of whom risked their lives to fight in the French Resistance. Eventually they were captured by the Gestapo and sent to Auschwitz. Only 49 would return home. Sisters of the Resistance (1995) is another book of impeccable research and personal narratives detailing the lives and risks taken by women who worked united against the Nazis. In Women Who Lived for Danger (2002), we travel back to England and meet the real life women who worked for Britain's Special Office Executive or intelligence service. Like the fictional Verity and Adele, these real life young women were highly trained operatives who fought for their country using cunning and determination and survived through their wits and ability to remain cool in the face of danger.