Book Review: The Last Year of the War
“That the past is nothing you can make friends or enemies of. It just is what it is. Or was. It is this day you are living right now, this very day, that is yours to make of it what you will.”
-- The Last Year of the War, Susan Meissner
I don't quite remember how I first stumbled across The Last Year of the War, but it was certainly worth the find. Thought-provoking and, at times, emotionally-wrenching, Susan Meissner presents us with an entirely knew way of looking at World War Two in her beautiful book The Last Year of the War.
In 1943, Elise Sontag is a typical American teenager from Iowa—aware of the war but distanced from its reach. Then her father, a legal U.S. resident for nearly two decades, is suddenly arrested on suspicion of being a Nazi sympathizer. The family is sent to an internment camp in Texas, where, behind the armed guards and barbed wire, Elise feels stripped of everything beloved and familiar, including her own identity.
The only thing that makes the camp bearable is meeting fellow internee Mariko Inoue, a Japanese-American teen from Los Angeles, whose friendship empowers Elise to believe the life she knew before the war will again be hers. Together in the desert wilderness, Elise and Mariko hold tight the dream of being young American women with a future beyond the fences.
But when the Sontag family is exchanged for American prisoners behind enemy lines in Germany, Elise will face head-on the person the war desires to make of her. In that devastating crucible she must discover if she has the will to rise above prejudice and hatred and re-claim her own destiny, or disappear into the image others have cast upon her.
The Last Year of the War tells a little-known story of World War II with great resonance for our own times and challenges the very notion of who we are when who we’ve always been is called into question.
Plot — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
WW2 stories are everywhere - some that tell it well, others that do not. Most focus on the actual soldiers; a decent amount focus on the home-front.
But The Last Year of the War is one that mixes the two together rand tells the story of an everyday girl caught in a war in a very new way.
Meissner's plot points were well-thought out and, though sometimes surprising, always felt realistic.
Characters — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Meissner's characters are very thought-provoking and realistic. With their own fears and desires and people or causes they'd give anything to protect, each draws out different aspects of their background.
Seeing Elise grow over the course of the book was both lovely and heartbreaking as the realities of war started becoming clearer and clearer for her. Nevertheless, there was a small spark of hope in her heart no matter what that kept the story grounded.
Pacing — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I was rarely bored while reading this book, though I'll admit that there were some slower parts, especially near the beginning. The story picked up later, though - the wait is worth it. (;
Worldbuilding and Setting — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
From their original home of Iowa to an internment camp in Texas to a war-ravaged Germany to still other backgrounds, all of Meissner's settings were vivid. Her focus on details really set the scenes, and I admire that.
Prose — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
While not outstanding, Meissner's prose did carry the story well and, on the whole, kept me engaged. There were a few times when the writer in me wished she had phrased something else, but, on the whole, her descriptions were very engaging.
Theme — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
As far as I know, Meissner is not a Christian, which, in my opinion, costed the book a true bit of hope. She still managed to pull some of that out at the end, but without the framework of a Christian perspective, the hope felt rather aimless.
There are also some very mature themes dealt with in the book, such that I'd be wary giving it to younger teens.
At one point, when the French soldiers arrive at her German town, Elise is nearly raped, an event which causes what may be PTSD afterwards. This scene, though foreshadowed, is a difficult one, and parents may want to talk about it before/afterwards.
I've read The Last Year of the War several times, and, though I wouldn't give it five stars across the book, is a worthwhile read for mature readers.
The unique look at WW2 is amazing, and Elise's journey is one you'll not want to put down. <3
Buy The Last Year of the War here: https://www.amazon.com/Last-Year-War-Susan-Meissner-ebook/dp/B07DZW5X3K/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=the+last+year+of+the+war&qid=1657981997&sr=8-1