Things We Didn’t Say by Amy Lynn Green
From 1942 through 1945, more than 400,000 Axis prisoners were shipped to the United States and detained in camps in rural areas across the country. This relatively little-known historical fact acts as the focal point for this impressive debut novel, Things We Didn’t Say by Amy Lynn Green.
About: It’s 1944. Linguistic student, Johanna Berglund, has reluctantly accepted a translator position at a camp for German POWs. As she interacts with the prisoners, translating conversations and censoring their letters home to Germany, she begins to see these men as more than just enemies. But advocating for the soldiers’ better treatment leaves townspeople wondering whose side she’s on. Most patriot citizens want nothing to do with the Germans labouring in the camp, or with those who work there. As the lines between compassion and treason become blurred, Johanna must decide where her heart truly lies.
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I initially started reading this book to get our 2021 challenge’s epistolary prompt out of the way. I thought that this would be one of my least favourite categories of this year’s challenge — but let me tell you, Green has completely managed to change my mind.
An epistolary is a literary work in the form of letters. It could be comprised of diary entries, letters, e-mails, text messages, newspaper articles, etc.
The novel starts out with an intriguing hook. Our main character, Johanna, is charged with treason and has compiled the following collection of letters to act as her defence. Unlike some of the epistolary novels I’ve read, the correspondence between characters feels natural. There’s no forced dialogue or awkward cramming of information to fill plotholes. The story flows seamlessly from one letter to another and it’s apparent that the book has been well mapped out.
As a character, Johanna is outspoken and headstrong. Her plucky nature leaps across the page and is clearly demonstrated in each of her letters and responses. But she also has the sort of character flaws that make her feel like more than just a romanticized heroine. I felt that there was depth, growth, and a worthwhile character arc here.
The setting was also a fascinating exploration of what was (to me) a little known historical fact about WWII. I had no idea there were German POW camps in the United States. This made for a unique and refreshing take on historical novels set during this time period. The hometown feel and everyday life aspect of this book added to that.
Finally, I enjoyed that the author tackled some heavier and much-needed subjects. These discussions were sprinkled throughout the novel in a way that evoked questions and left you thinking. While some aspects of this didn’t feel entirely authentic to the era, I appreciated that they were included nonetheless. These discussions on prejudice, humanity, and compassion are a much-needed part of today’s books.
I definitely recommend this for those who enjoy historical fiction.
Prompts for the 2021 Challenge
Things We Didn’t Say could potentially fit the following 2021 challenge categories:
- A character with the same name as a male family member: Peter, Stefan, Brady, Erik, Christopher, Dieter
- An author with only one published book
- Book with discussion questions inside
- Book with multiple character POV
- Shares a similar title to another book
- Endorsement by a famous author on the cover
- An epistolary
- Cover with a woman who is facing away.
**Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group
and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. All opinions expressed are my own.