ARC Review: The forest of Vanishing Stars
I know we talk about auto-buy authors a lot around here, and Kristin Harmel is one of those for me. I haven't read all of her books, but I've read enough to know that she does not disappoint.
I recently finished her newest book, The Forest of Vanishing Stars (out on July 6). Previously, I've read The Room on Rue Amelie and The Book of Lost Names. All three of these were five-star reads for me.
The Forest of Vanishing Stars is one of the most unique WWII historical fiction books I've read recently. I like to mix up my historical fiction reads because there are so many stories out there that don't center on WWII, but I must admit, I love reading about this time period because the sheer resiliency, strength, and fortitude of people who lived through this time period move me every time I experience a new story.
After being stolen from her wealthy German parents and raised in the unforgiving wilderness of eastern Europe, a young woman finds herself alone in 1941 after her kidnapper dies. Her solitary existence is interrupted, however, when she happens upon a group of Jews fleeing the Nazi terror. Stunned to learn what’s happening in the outside world, she vows to teach the group all she can about surviving in the forest—and in turn, they teach her some surprising lessons about opening her heart after years of isolation. But when she is betrayed and escapes into a German-occupied village, her past and present come together in a shocking collision that could change everything.
Inspired by incredible true stories of survival against staggering odds, and suffused with the journey-from-the-wilderness elements that made Where the Crawdads Sing a worldwide phenomenon, The Forest of Vanishing Stars is a heart-wrenching and suspenseful novel.
I think that piece of the Goodreads description that likens this book to the realism elements we saw in Where the Crawdads Sing is spot on. The writing is somewhat whimsical, which was a refreshing experience for WWII historical fiction. It's evident from the writing (and the author's note) that Harmel did a tremendous amount of research to bring the forest and the characters' plight to life. There is a ton of setting set up in the beginning, but it's crucial to help the reader understand Yona, the forest itself, and her connection to the forest.
Something I loved about this book is the exploration of how fate connects us. This is explored beautifully through Yona's character, from the very beginning when she is kidnapped from her home to the very last page. There is a beautiful quote that I wish I could share (I'm not supposed to share until the finished copy is printed), but it is centered on how when we become interconnected with others, if we're meant to connect again, we do. And we have to trust that it will happen in time and if it doesn't, there is a reason. There is a character in this book I soooo wish I could connect this quote to, but it will be a major spoiler. But when I had this ah-ha moment, it was like I saw Yona's circumstances in a brand new light.
As with any historical fiction novel, especially those centered on war, this is not for the faint of heart. My stomach rolled quite a few times, I cried, and it had me reaching for my kids to hug and squeeze them as tight as I could. The characters are stronger than I could ever imagine. Their stories are heartbreaking. But through it all, they remain steadfast in their convictions and hopeful for their future. How I do not know, but it's inspiring to witness.
I highly recommend you pre-order this from your favorite indie bookstore (here's a link to mine, Solid State in D.C.!). If you are a fan of historical fiction or trying to expand your horizons, this one will not disappoint.
And a quick plug! Kristin Harmel and Kelly Rimmer (another favorite of mine—I recently reviewed her newest work, The Warsaw Orphan) are hosting a virtual event together on June 1 at 7 p.m. CST. I am attending! You can sign up here.
If you've read Kristin Harmel's books, which is your favorite?
**Thank you so much to NetGalley and Gallery Books for allowing me to read this beautiful book early. As always, all thoughts are mine!