Friday, November 2, 2012

How Huge the Night a Novel by Heather Munn and Lydia Munn

"Based on the true story of the town of Le Chambon—the only French town honored by Israel for rescuing Jews from the Holocaust—How Huge the Night is a compelling, coming-of-age drama that will keep teens turning the pages as it teaches them about a fascinating period of history and inspires them to think more deeply about their everyday choices." Excerpt from Amazon

The story parallels the paths that two different children take. Nina is a Jew escaping from Austria with her little brother Gustav, and Julien is a protestant boy relocated from Paris to a quiet town in the south of France where his grandfather lives. The chapters rotate between the two until their paths finally meet. 

Julien is stuck from the very beginning with the choice to follow the crowds or to follow his conscience. It's a battle with himself and a battle with his faith to find the path that he must follow to become his happiest self. And Nina herself grapples with the idea of a God who would send her through such trials and abuse. 

Julien goes through the coming of age journey in what I would imagine is a pretty normal way. He is moved away from everything that he knows and then forced into a new school where he doesn't know anyone and is viewed as an outsider by all the other kids. It's anger at his parents, then anger at everyone else, then anger at himself. It's a pretty religiously weighted book because every day he prays. Every day he gets a little closer to learning the right things to pray for. He learns that one small decision can change the way everything else is run. He sets his town on a path to great acts of faith and kindness.

Nina on the other hand is on the run and dressed like a boy. She quickly loses her faith in humanity and fears all men. It's a long and painful journey from Austria to France. They meet enemies and friends alike on the way. Gustav grows and becomes a man because he has to learn to care for and protect his crippled "brother Niko". And Nina has to find the will to survive from somewhere deep inside. Their story isn't very well followed or laid out in great detail. 

The book was certainly meant to focus mostly on the townspeople and their acts of bravery or bigotry either way. Set during the German take over of France it shows that people aren't always afraid to do what is right even when it is outlawed. I've never really read much about France being defeated by the Germans, so it was an interesting concept to me. I can understand why Hitler set up a dividing line and had an unoccupied area of France, since this area wasn't a direct link to any other major countries (specifically England). I feel though that in the book the story of Nina and Gustav should have had equal weight, the depth of their story was definitely something I was missing every time I'd pass over one of their chapters. I can see how maybe the writers were trying to make their flight seem more furtive by making it all so short and terse, but I didn't really enjoy that. 

The fact that this is a teen novel didn't really discourage me from reading it at all. It was well written and easy to follow. I found this book for free for my Kindle via a blog by Michael Gallagher called "Free Kindle Books and Tips" It's pretty awesome. If you have a Kindle I'd suggest the purchase. It's only 99c a month and I've already downloaded at minimum 20 books for free that I wouldn't have found on my own before they went back to full price. It's nice. 

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