Book Reviews: Every Last Promise by Kristin Halbrook and Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke by Anne Blankman

Every Last PromiseEvery Last Promise
Kristin Halbrook
HarperTeen, April 2015
ISBN 978-0-06-212128-8
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Kayla saw something at the party that she wasn’t supposed to. But she hasn’t told anyone. No one knows the real story about what happened that night—about why Kayla was driving the car that ran into a ditch after the party, about what she saw in the hours leading up to the accident, and about the promise she made to her friend Bean before she left for the summer.

Now Kayla’s coming home for her senior year. If Kayla keeps quiet, she might be able to get her old life back. If she tells the truth, she risks losing everything—and everyone—she ever cared about.

On the surface, this is a story about the aftermath of rape—and so it is—but it’s also a story about how there can be more victims beyond the person who suffers the actual assault. Those peripheral victims need to cope in a different sort of way and the guilt they feel can be enormous, guilt that they could have done something more, guilt that they might do the wrong thing after the fact, guilt that they’ve kept secrets, maybe even guilt that someone else was the one attacked. These people are survivors in their own way, certainly not lessening the impact of the true victim’s pain and recovery, but survivors nonetheless.

Unfortunately, Kayla is not the heroic figure we would like her to be and it’s very easy to decide that she’s a coward, more interested in her own well-being than anyone else’s. That actually is true but I think it’s important to acknowledge that many of us, myself included, have looked the other way at least once in our lives. Can we honestly say that we’re “better” than Kayla is?

Ms. Halbrook‘s intent is laudable and I wish I could have connected with Kayla in a more positive way but her narcissism is just a bit too overwhelming. Yes, I understood her but I didn’t care much about her. Still, the author has an important message and I hope this book will end up encouraging others to stand forth when circumstances call for it. In the meantime, I believe this author is one worth watching and I’ll be reading more by her.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2015.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Conspiracy of Blood and SmokeConspiracy of Blood and Smoke
Anne Blankman
Balzer + Bray, April 2015
ISBN 978-0-06-227884-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

The girl known as Gretchen Whitestone has a secret: She used to be part of Adolf Hitler’s inner circle. More than a year after she made an enemy of her old family friend and fled Munich, she lives in England, posing as an ordinary German immigrant, and is preparing to graduate from high school. Her love, Daniel, is a reporter in town. For the first time in her life, Gretchen is content.

But then Daniel gets a telegram that sends him back to Germany, and Gretchen’s world turns upside down. When she receives word that Daniel is wanted for murder, she has to face the danger she thought she’d escaped—and return to her homeland.

Gretchen must do everything she can to avoid capture, even though saving Daniel will mean consorting with her former friends, the Nazi elite. And as they work to clear Daniel’s name, Gretchen and Daniel discover a deadly conspiracy stretching from the slums of Berlin to the Reichstag itself. Can they dig up the explosive truth and get out in time—or will Hitler discover them first?

My appetite for young adult World War II-era fiction was sharpened when I was introduced to a wonderful book by Elizabeth Wein and I’ve been on the lookout for more ever since that one. The first book by Anne Blankman, Prisoner of Night and Fog, captured my attention in a very good way and I was really excited when  I heard about this sequel, Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke. While I don’t think it has quite the intensity of Prisoner, it still kept me engrossed till the very end.

The years leading up to war are uncomfortable everywhere but Gretchen and Daniel really do think they have found a haven of peace in England and so, in a fashion, they have. Away from Uncle Dolf, Gretchen has a chance at a happy life and Daniel is a large part of that. Chance, though, has an ugly way of wreaking havoc and Daniel soon finds that he has no choice but to return to Germany, having no idea, of course, that he is about to be in even graver damage than he expected.

Gretchen and Daniel are an interesting pair. At times, they seem oblivious to the dangers facing them at nearly every turn but, at the same time, they have a certain gravity about them. Most teens in earlier generations must have been less frivolous than we see so frequently today for a lot of reasons including shorter life expectancy, poorer health, more manual labor and so on. In 1933, we have to add in a growing awareness that bad things might be happening in Germany, fueled by the devastating effects of the Great Depression. Hitler rose to power in part because of the need Germans had to rise above their massive discontent and only a few were able to see past his charisma to the nascent evil behind the facade. That Ms. Blankman has given her characters the opportunity to understand what was happening is powerful but I’m glad she also lets these teens make mistakes and fail to grasp the horror that was coming in just a few years. Very few did so I would not have believed it if Gretchen and Daniel had too much foresight.

The murder and the race to exonerate Daniel work as good reasons to get the kids back in Germany but it’s the rise of the Nazi Party and all that entails that provides the real story here. It’s one we should never forget and authors like Ms. Blankman who create such entertaining tales that focus on historic truth help us hold on to that knowledge. Along with such weighty issues, though, I relish keeping company with Gretchen and Daniel and am looking forward to the next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2015.

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