The Winter Orphans
reviewed by Pam Guynn
The Winter Orphans by Kristin Beck is moving, suspenseful, and heart-wrenching. It’s also full of hope, danger, and courage. This historical fiction novel is largely set in southern France between August 1942 and November 1943.
Parents often sent children fleeing Germans away to Belgium. Three years ago, that happened to Ella Rosenthal and her young sister, Hanni. Now they are sheltering with one hundred other young refugees in a derelict castle overseen by the Swiss Red Cross. There are other such “colonies” across southern France. Rosli Naf and Anne-Marie Piguet are two of the Swiss volunteers who want to protect the children. Rosli directs the colony where Ella and Hanni are sheltering. As the oldest children get closer to eighteen and Germany invades southern France, Rosli and Anne-Marie realize they have to smuggle the older teens out of France. Will they be successful? Who will survive?
Ella is often afraid, but she is protective of her sister and will do anything to help her survive, and that takes courage she didn’t know she had. She’s also quiet, gentle, and thinks while others talk. Rosli doesn’t consider herself good with feelings, but is great with rules. However, she is protective of the children in her care, strong, and courageous. Anne-Marie is younger, a caretaker in a different colony, and just as protective and courageous.
Told from the points of view of Ella, Rosli, and Anne-Marie, this novel is based on true events and real people. The courage of these three and many others is extraordinary in the face of so much adversity, hatred, and bullying. The story is heart-breaking at times and the tension and terror felt by the children is palpable. However, there is also bravery, standing up for what is right, kindness, moments of happiness, and a willingness to help others by some that lightens the story at times.
This story is well-written and well-researched. The prose immediately draws readers into the story and the world-building and atmosphere are so tangible one can feel the terror and the cold. This moving book has unforgettable characters and is a story that will stay with me. It took me on an emotional rollercoaster. While there was sadness, fear, and cruelty, there was also hope, love, kindness, and courage. The author’s note is well worth the read and explains which characters were real people that did astonishing things during this terrible time in world history and which were fictional, but inspired by others.
Overall, this was an engaging and emotional story of hope, fear, and bravery in the face in adversity. Those that enjoy historical fiction are encouraged to consider this book as their next read.
Berkley Publishing Group and Kristin Beck provided a complimentary digital ARC of this novel via NetGalley. This is my honest review. Opinions are mine alone and are not biased in any way. Publication date is currently set for September 13, 2022.