As a huge fan of WWII historical fiction I immediately jumped at the chance to review this book through Netgalley! By the way, I send them, including Janet Skeslien Charles and Simon & Schuster, my sincere gratitude for sending me a free Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) in exchange for my honest review! I enjoy going to the library (pre-COVID), so what better way to combine my favorite interests than have a historical fiction set at one?!? I enjoyed Skeslien Charles’ exploration of the employees who worked at the American Library in Paris, their quirks, and Odile’s (the protagonist’s) all-conuming love for her work and friends there. The story itself is told in alternating point-of-views: first, by Lily, an ambitious, lovable, and curious teen who’s Odlie’s neighbor in 1980’s Montana, USA, and second, by Odile herself.
Lily’s growth from her middle to high school years are influenced by Odile’s wisdom as she helps Lily navigate adolesence through her mistakes she herself made as a teen. Although she didn’t experience the brunt of WWII, her run-ins with the Nazis on-the-job shaped her morals and ethics as she dealt with secret spies, anti-semitism, and her friend’s questionable loyalty to the Allies. Assumptions and hesitation led to some hiccups in her relationships but she used those lessons to teach Lily how to deal with situations similar to her’s, such as jealousy. The plot isn’t hard to follow, there are a few typos at the beginning but other than that the rest is fine.
Odile, Lily, Odile’s family, Felix (Odile’s boyfriend), Mary Louise, Odile’s second husband, and the residents of Montana are the only fictional characters in this story, but just because they’re fictional doesn’t mean I agree with their justifications as a teachable moment. For example — this will be a spoiler but its worth mentioning — Odile tricks her fiance into thinking she’s single when she’s currently married to Felix, all because he beat up her friend for having an affair with a Nazi. She attempts to justify her bigamy but its just flat-out wrong, especially since she is the one who caused the rift between her friend and Felix. There’s also an emotional disconnect between the reader and Odile’s WWII story; yes, she’s probably blessed to have escaped a lot of violence and gore under the Nazis, but I didn’t get the thriller-esque feels promised in the blurb, even when she physically ran into them twice. But other than that this is a great, quick read for WWII Historical-Fiction Fans!
Originally posted on Goodreads and slightly modified
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Synopsis from Amazon:
Paris, 1939: Young and ambitious Odile Souchet seems to have the perfect life with her handsome police officer beau and a dream job at the American Library in Paris. When the Nazis march into the city, Odile stands to lose everything she holds dear, including her beloved library. Together with her fellow librarians, Odile joins the Resistance with the best weapons she has: books. But when the war finally ends, instead of freedom, Odile tastes the bitter sting of unspeakable betrayal.
Montana, 1983: Lily is a lonely teenager looking for adventure in small-town Montana. Her interest is piqued by her solitary, elderly neighbor. As Lily uncovers more about her neighbor’s mysterious past, she finds that they share a love of language, the same longings, and the same intense jealousy, never suspecting that a dark secret from the past connects them.
“A love letter to Paris, the power of books, and the beauty of intergenerational friendship” (Booklist), The Paris Library shows that extraordinary heroism can sometimes be found in the quietest places.