This suspenseful novel is based on a true story of a teenage spy during WWII. Suzanne David is 13 when the war invades her life suddenly and violently in May of 1940. From the opening chapter, the book moves at a rapid pace and readers are given a unique perspective on life in occupied France. From rationing to being thrown out of her house with 30 minutes notice, Suzanne's life turns upside down. The hardships of war that citizens of an occupied country suffer is a topical theme. Suzanne continues to train as a singer during the war, and her unusual occupationa singer traveling to opera houses around Franceattracts the attention of Dr. Leclerc. Her family physician is actually a head spy with the resistance, and he recruits Suzanne to carry messages. She does, and manages to survive her experience despite many hair-raising moments. (Literally, as her first hiding place for messages is in her hair.) The action will have readers on the edge through the tense conclusion, and the epilogue is not to be missed. It is a message from the real Suzanne David that includes an important reference which explains the title of the novel. 2003, Dell Laurel-Leaf/Random House, Ages 11 to 14.
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, May 2003: Bradley has written fiction based closely on the life of Suzanne David Hall, who shared her stories with the author. The novel begins in 1940 when Suzanne is 13 and it ends when the Allies liberate her town of Cherbourg, France in June 1944. Suzanne is studying to be an opera singer, and as soon as she finishes school when she is 15, she starts working in the local opera company, singing the leading roles. She naturally has a lot of appointments around town and in nearby towns, and her doctor recruits her as a spy, carrying messages in the midst of the Nazi occupation. She knows that if she is caught, she will be killed. The strength and discipline she needs for her career help her in the work as a spy. Details of her family life under the occupation, her singing career, the solace she finds in music during utmost stressthese details make the story a reality for the reader. Therefore, the fear she experiences working as a spy, the lies she must tell to her family and friends to cover her activities, and the suspense inherent in the story make this a thrilling reading experience. We are filled with admiration for Suzanne's strength and commitment. Frequent French expressions and details from the operas and their arias make this novel even more exotic for American YAs. The town of Cherbourg is laid out in the readers' mindsfrom the first scenes of Germans bombing the beach at the time of the British troops retreating in 1940 to the liberation of the town on D-Day. In an epilogue, we learn that Suzanne married an American soldier at the end of 1945 and emigrated to America, where she raised her family in Tennessee. Apowerful story. KLIATT Codes: JS*Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2003, Random House, Dell Laurel-Leaf, 181p., Ages 12 to 18.
School Library Journal
Gr 6-8-Life for Suzanne David, a 13-year-old French schoolgirl and music apprentice, dramatically changes in May, 1940, when she and her best friend witness the brutal death of a neighbor when a bomb drops directly in front of them. Soon the Germans take over Cherbourg, and the Davids are forced from their home into poverty. Then Suzanne is given the opportunity to help the Allies. Bravely, she risks her life, family, and singing career in order to spy for the Resistance. The pace of this suspenseful novel, told in first person and based on a true story, moves swiftly into action within the first chapter, showing the young heroine as strong, courageous, and clever. Filled, but not laden, with the events of the war, and peppered with French language and the culture of music, this novel will appeal to readers who enjoy history and espionage.-Kimberly Monaghan, Vernon Area Public Library, IL Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Suzanne David’s father always said, "Obey the rules and no one gets hurt." But when their French town of Cherbourg is bombed, her neighbor is killed, the Nazis take over, and her family is turned out of their house, whose rules does she obey? When one of the few black families in Cherbourg disappears, Suzanne says to her Papa, "I thought Hitler only hated Jews. I didn’t know he hated black people too." "Now you do," he replies. It is this growing awareness, step by step, that leads to Suzanne’s involvement in the French Resistance, becoming number 22, and relaying messages essential to the planning of the D-Day invasion. Based on Bradley’s interviews with the real Suzanne, this is an exciting account of a girl’s coming of age in a scary time. The historical context is neatly woven into the story, so readers will learn about Dunkirk, the fall of Paris, Vichy France, Charles de Gaulle, and D-Day. A terrific companion to Gregory Maguire’s The Good Liar, but for an older audience. (Fiction. 10-14)
From the Publisher
[STAR] "This taut, engrossing World War II novel instantly immerses readers,...[but] the real focus, however, is the skin-crawling suspense story about one of France's youngest spies. Each chapter brings new intrigue and often shocking revelations...resonat[ing] with authenticity, excitement, and heart."-Booklist, Starred
[STAR] "This suspenseful novel,...based on a true story, moves swiftly into action...Filled, but not laden, with the events of the war, and peppered with French language and the culture of music, this novel will appeal to readers who enjoy history and espionage."-SLJ
[STAR] "Based on Bradley’s interviews with the real Suzanne, this is an exciting account of a girl’s coming of age in a scary time. The historical context is neatly woven into the story."-Kirkus Reviews, Starred
"The action will have readers on the edge through the tense conclusion, and the epilogue is not to be missed."-The Bulletin
"A highly compelling look at the covert battle for freedom."-Publishers Weekly
An IRA Teachers' Choice
An ALA Amelia Bloomer Selection
A VOYA Top Shelf Fiction Selection
A New York Public Library Book Pick
A Bank Street College Best Book of the Year
Read an Excerpt
For me the war began on May 29, 1940. I was thirteen years old.
It was a Wednesday, the day we studied catechism and had choir practice and then had the afternoon free. Of course, I had to remain after choir to rehearse my solo, but when that was finished I found my friend Yvette. Together we went to Soeur Margritte.
“S’il vous plaît, please, Soeur Margritte, may we go down to the beach?” we asked.
Our convent school was high among the hills of Cherbourg; school was farther from the beach than my own home. But while we were not permitted home except on weekends, we were sometimes permitted to go about town. Yvette and I were good students, well behaved. Always follow the rules, my papa told me, and you will be all right. I always did, and I always was.
“We will take our homework,” Yvette said.
“It’s such a beautiful day,” I said.
“We will be back before supper,” we chorused.
France had been at war with Germany for nearly six months, yet there had been so little fighting that it seemed to mean nothing. The German army had spread across Europe, almost unopposed; neither the French nor the British had done much to stop them. There were English soldiers stationed in Cherbourg—I saw them when Maman and I went to the market on Saturdays—but they were quiet and polite and never bothered anyone. I couldn’t imagine them actually fighting. Some days it was hard to believe we were in a real war.
Which is not to say we weren’t paying attention. We listened to the radio and read the newspaper reports with increasing dread. We knew Hitler was coming; we feared that nothing could stop him. Papa and Maman talked in low voices at the dinner table, and sometimes Papa pounded his fist on the table and swore. “That Hitler!” he would say. “That cursed son of Satan!”
But I was only thirteen. My brothers, Pierre and Etienne, were fourteen and sixteen, too young to be soldiers; Etienne was lame as well. And I was studying to be a famous opera singer. I loved singing like nothing else. At Christmas I had sung a solo in the church choir, Gounod’s “Ave Maria,” and our director had said I was talented and should pursue a career. So now I had a music tutor, Madame Marcelle; I took special voice lessons twice a week and practiced hard every day.
So it was not that I was not paying attention to the war, but that I never thought the war could hurt me.
“Yes,” Soeur Margritte decided. She was the nicest of the sisters. “It’s a beautiful day, and who knows how many carefree days we have left. You may go. Have a nice time—but do your homework!”
We skipped down the cobblestone streets. The wind blowing in from the Channel tousled our skirts, pulled at our hair. I sang an aria from Carmen as we drew closer. Carmen was my favorite opera. I knew most of the part of Carmen, but I still could not reach some of the high notes.
“Oh, tais-toi,” said Yvette, rolling her eyes at me. “Be quiet. Singing, always singing. I bet you sing in your sleep.”
I probably did sing in my sleep. Someday I would sing in Paris. I dreamed of it all the time. “I’ll ask Odette,” I said. Odette was one of my roommates. I hummed a few notes, then began again. “Ah! je t’aime, Escamillo, je t’aime, et que je meure si j’ai jamais aimé quelqu’un autant que toi! Ah, I love you, Escamillo, I love you, and may I die if I have ever loved anyone as much as you!”
Yvette grinned. “What a horrible song!” She tossed her hair over her shoulder, flung her arm out dramatically, and began to sing, “Savez-vous planter les choux? Do you know how to plant cabbages?” A simple nursery song. Her voice wobbled, up, down, down, up.
Singing is a talent. You have it or you don’t.
“Come on!” I said, running toward the sea.
We went to the Place Napoléon, the big square near the Gare Maritime, the station where trains could pull right up to the harbor to load and unload the ships. The Church of La Trinité formed part of the square, and from the benches around the edge we could watch the ships in the harbor, the waves curling, and the birds wheeling overhead. People strolled back and forth across the square.
We settled onto a bench in the sun. I opened my history book. History was my favorite subject. Yvette sniffed the air as though it were a flower. “It’s so nice to be outside,” she said, “after being stuck in that stuffy school all day. You’re not going to start with the books already, are you? Let’s talk.”
“Okay.” I closed my book and looked around. “The harbor’s empty. That’s odd.” Cherbourg had an important harbor; before the war big ships had come often. I had been on the Queen Elizabeth once, when she was docked at Cherbourg.
Yvette looked too. “Not really,” she said. “It’s such a pretty day. If I had a boat, I’d take it out today too.”
“Bonjour, Yvette,” came a woman’s pleasant voice. “Bonjour, Suzanne.”
“Bonjour, madame,” we said. Our friend Madame Montagne waved to us as she came nearer. Her little son, Simon, skipped down to the water’s edge and threw rocks into the waves. The Montagnes lived near Yvette’s family, and Madame Montagne was Yvette’s mother’s friend. Since I was Yvette’s best friend, I had known Madame Montagne for years.
“Where’s Marie?” I asked. Marie was her daughter, two years old, a beautiful child with wide blue eyes.
“With her grandmother,” Madame Montagne said. She patted her bulging belly happily. She was going to have a baby very soon; we often talked to her about it. Yvette was knitting her a pair of tiny booties. “I have grown too fat and I can’t carry her this far. But Simon wanted to walk down to the beach. It’s such a pretty day.” She looked up. “Is that a plane?”
There was a far-off buzzing noise. It did sound like a plane.
“Salut, Simon!” Yvette yelled. Simon waved to her.
I hummed a scale to myself, D minor, as I found my place in my history book again.
The buzzing noise grew louder.
“Simon!” called Madame Montagne. “Do not get your shoes wet! Stay out of the water!” She started to walk toward him.
Suddenly the noise turned into a roar. Planes swarmed overhead, many of them, their engines fast and loud.
I jumped to my feet. My books slid to the ground. Yvette turned toward me, her eyes wide. She said something I didn’t hear.
The beach, the square, exploded.
From the Hardcover edition.