by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Jennifer Nielsen’s newest middle grade historical fiction, Rescue, returns to the World War II time period of her Sydney Taylor Notable Book, Resistance, but with France as its setting. In Rescue, as in her other books of historical fiction, Nielsen gives us a courageous and resourceful heroine, Meg Kenyon, who lives in a rural area of Occupied France with her mother and grandmother. Meg’s father has gone to fight/spy against the Nazis, and the family has not heard from him in the two years that he has been away. When Meg finds an injured British captain in the barn behind her grandmother’s house, he offers her a way to bring her father home: If Meg leads a family of three out of France and into Spain, they’ve promised that her father will go free. All Meg has to help her on the hazardous journey is an encoded note from her father and a backpack of supplies from the captain, but she’ll brave double-crosses, Nazi villains, and mountainside chases if it means seeing her father again. Nielsen’s skill with pacing is astonishing; the novel rolls along at breakneck speed, with near-misses and high tension at every turn. It’s easy to root for Meg as she discerns again and again the best course of action for the family and herself, even as the dangers of the war close in on them. Everyone has a secret, including Meg, and Nielsen masterfully uses Meg’s love of cryptography to wrap everyone in his or her own puzzle. There are few books for children that explore WWII’s impact on French society, and Rescue is a compelling read for those middle grade readers who cannot get enough WWII stories.
While Rescue is certainly rooted in authentic details based on extensive research, its Jewish content is minimal. None of the main characters is Jewish. The treatment of Jews by the Nazis is mentioned several times, but Nielsen is presenting a story about gentile French and German citizens whose lives are in danger not because of their religion, but because they were working against the Nazis in a clandestine manner. While Rescue is a new and welcome take on WWII literature for middle grade readers, it’s not a book to be considered for the Sydney Taylor Awards.
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