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Book Review: Martha Hall Kelly's Lilac Girls + a Giveaway!

If you know me well or if you've followed my blog for a while, you may know that I love historical fiction. I am certified to teach 7-12 social studies in addition to 8-12 English, so I have a soft spot for a good historical fiction work. I am pretty selective when it comes to choosing these books, though, because I don't want to feel like I'm rereading another book or reading about the same time period over and over again.

I do, oftentimes, find myself reading historical fiction centered on WWII. There are just so many stories that authors can craft from one of the darkest points in our world's history, and I especially love when authors use real people and real events to create their stories.

Enter Lilac Girls. I've had this beautiful piece of literature on my bookshelf for a good while, and after recently finishing a historical fiction novel that just didn't do it for me (The Women in the Castle - has anyone read it?), I felt like the genre needed redemption, and I really had been dying to read Lilac Girls.

Lilac Girls follows the first-person narrative of Caroline Ferriday, Kasia Kuzmerick, and Herta Oberheuser, three women affected by WWII in very different ways. Caroline's character is based on a real person, and Martha Hall Kelly did extensive research in developing her character, including visits to Caroline's home in Connecticut and studying her journals. Kasia is inspired by a real person, but her name is fictitious. Finally, Herta was a real person, just like Caroline's character.

Caroline is a New York socialite who cares deeply about orphaned French children overseas and the overall humanitarian effort related to the war in general. Kasia is a Polish teenager who finds herself working for the underground resistance when Hitler invades her country. And Herta is a young German female doctor who is dying to prove herself in the male-dominated world of surgery, so she takes a post at what she believes is a female reeducation camp, but it is actually the only all-female concentration camp, Ravensbrück. These three women's lives will collide in ways none of them ever thought possible, and it's a story of survival, hope, redemption, and justice that will leave you in tears throughout the course of the book.

One of the reasons I loved this book so much was that I learned something. I'll be honest; I did not know about Ravensbrück. I didn't realize there was one all-female concentration camp during WWII. I figured if there were all-female camps, there were many. But this was it. And the atrocious acts the Nazis committed on these women, which Kelly portrays in her book, will leave you feeling desperate for them with every turn of the page.

I don't want to give too much away, but I do want to quickly touch on something I've seen come up in reviews on Goodreads. Since this book is written in three different first-person perspectives, you get inside the thoughts and feelings of all characters, at times forcing you to empathize with a character you despise. That's how I felt about Herta's character. And some readers who reviewed this book said Kelly didn't make Herta out to be a villain enough, but I think she portrayed Herta's character perfectly. You get to see others' perspectives of Herta through their own narration, but of course Herta will be biased toward her "cause" (as horrifying as it was) because in those chapters, she is the one sharing her thoughts and feelings. Just some food for thought before you read the book (because you will!).

One more thing: not many people know about Ravensbrück. It's one of the less discussed aspects of the monstrosities that Hitler and his Nazi's committed during WWII, but I think it's incredibly important to learn about this concentration camp so these women's stories are not forgotten. After I finished the book, I immediately picked up Ravensbrück by Sarah Helm because I needed to learn more. That's when you know you've read a good book - it inspires you to do more reading on the subject.

If you read Lilac Girls, I recommend reading the following articles after you finish. They provide more insight into the events Kelly includes in her book and they show some of the research she conducted throughout the writing process. This article delves into Kelly's inspiration for writing the novel. This article discusses something that occurred at Ravensbrück and gives further context, with a nod to Lilac Girls. And finally, this article gives some information as to how the Nazis came up with said experiment that they performed on the women at the concentration camp. All recommended, again, after you read the book.

Now for the giveaway! Three lucky readers will win a copy of Lilac Girls, and entering is simple!

  1. Follow me on Instagram (@becca_culotta).

  2. Tag two bookworm friends in the comments of the photo that features Lilac Girls (it's the photo that matches the image in this post)

  3. For an additional entry, subscribe to my blog by signing up in the righthand side of my website.

The giveaway will open on Monday, Jan. 8 at 12 p.m. CST and will close Thursday at the same time. I will announce the winners on Friday.

Have you read Lilac Girls? If so, what did you think? And do you have any historical fiction recommendations for me? I recently finished Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys and plan on reading her book Between Shades of Gray soon. Let me know in the comments!

Happy reading!




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