Beautiful. Heart-wrenching. Eye-opening. Timely. Unforgettable. I’ve used all of these words when describing Susan Meissner’s forthcoming novel, The Last Year of the War, but there are two I can’t stress enough: read it.
The Last Year of the War is the story of Elise Sontag, a typical American teenager who has spent her entire life in her small Iowa town. With the world at war in 1943, the conflict overseas seems a distant worry compared to junior high gossip and classmates running away with boys they met at the soda shop. When Elise’s immigrant father is arrested on suspicion of being a Nazi sympathizer simply for being German, her comfortable existence is erased in a heartbeat. Soon, Elise and her family are living in an internment camp under stifling heat and armed guards in Texas. Feeing that every fiber of her identity has been stripped away, Elise finds solace in her newfound bond with California girl Mariko Inoue, a Japanese American whose family is also interned. As the war rages on, the life Elise once knew changes irrevocably, and all she has left to rely on are friendship, courage, and the threads of the girl she used to be. It’s a tale of survival, of fortitude, and choosing love over hate, and it enraptured me from start to finish.
Elise nestled her way into my heart from the earliest pages, and as painful as her journey was, I loved following her through each chapter of her life. The Last Year of the War beautifully exemplifies how a string of events—for better and for worse—can alter a person’s destiny, leaving nothing but the choice of what to make of it.
I have read so many poignant novels set during WWII, and while I knew of the sad history of Japanese Americans being held in internment camps, this was the first I’d read about German and Italian Americans being detained and repatriated as well. As harrowing as this slice of history is, it’s so important that that trauma not be swept under history’s rug, and I’m so glad Susan Meissner has given a voice to the innocent souls who were unjustly punished due to the mere circumstance of their nationality. We should never stop hearing their stories, and never stop learning from them.
I could go on for days about the richly drawn characters, the can’t-put-it-down plot, and the waterfall of emotions drenching each page, but instead I’ll go back to what I said from the get-go: read it. It will stay with you for a long, long time.
The Last Year of the War releases on March 19 and is available for pre-order now. Grab your copy at Barnes & Noble, your favorite indie, Amazon, or wherever books are sold. For more on Susan Meissner and her beautiful novels, visit susanmeissner.com and follow her on Facebook and Twitter. Susan is one of the talented Tall Poppy Writers, a wonderful group of authors who write beautiful books and host the loads of bookish fun over in their Facebook group, Bloom!