Synopsis: Suzanne David is on the French beach with her best friend Yvette when the German bombs begin to fall on Cherbourg (May 29,1940). When her pregnant neighbor is killed in front of her, the war has finally become real. Life changes almost immediately after the traumatic beach trip. Yvette is catatonic and can’t return back to school. Of course, it really doesn’t help when the Nazis take over the Davids’ house within the week.They have to move to a neighbor’s basement, and then an apartment next to a cemetery where Suzanne literally sleeps in the pantry.
Suzanne’s escape is music. She has an exceptional voice and is studying to be an opera singer. When she leaves school, she auditions for various local operas and gets all the good parts: the lead in several operas including Carmen, Mimi in La Boheme (the original Rent, for those who are interested), etc. She gets hurt and has to go to the doctor. Dr. Leclerc offers her a job as a spy for France, on the condition that she can’t tell anyone and she can’t back out. Because she travels for opera, she can move mostly undetected. She passes on notes to people who she only knows their numbers (her number is 22). She hides her messages in her piled-high hairstyle. It’s kind of interesting how she meets and figures out who the spies are. For example, at church two women were praying, one of whom she needed to pass the note to. The woman who she almost ignored pretended she dropped something and quoted Psalm 23 to Suzanne, but then gave her reference as 13 instead of 23 (13 being her number). Another time someone insisted that he saw Carmen SIX times, SIX!, and hers was the best!
She has a few close calls, and she begins to hear of other spies getting caught– an older gentleman who shined shoes, number four, was the first to go. She gets busier and sees the same spies over and over, which wasn’t the case at the beginning. Her parents are starting to notice her busy schedule, and she feels more conspicuous than before. She has a hair appointment, and it turns out her hairdresser’s lover is a Nazi. She gets turned in and interrogated, and she holds her own. The next morning, the Nazi soldiers who’ve questioned her freak out and leave her. Number fourteen, who was in the jail at the same time, tells her the Allies invaded Normandy. June 6, 1944. She was safe. She was one of two who did. The messages she carried were in preparation for this invasion.
- This is another totally true story “as told by” someone else (see Letters from Rifka) AND another book from Children’s Lit. Another cool fact you need to know is that Suzanne married an American soldier and ended up in Kingsport, Tn. As I live the next city over, that’s a really cool connection. Plus, signed book.
- So, totally had the Carmen song in my head after a couple chapters.
- I also kept thinking of the movie “Les parapluies des Cherbourg” simply because that was the first time I’d heard of Cherbourg. I had to do some cultural things for French class, I shelved the movies in the library, voila! French requirement solved! (I can watch Amelie and make Madame happy? Cool!)
- Lots of French phrases, but they immediately translate it.
- So, pet peeve about the cover. The girl in the forefront looks way too modern to be an opera singer in the 1940’s. Background looks good, and she looks good, but I’d peg her as a ’50s girl at the earliest with her sweater and… not sure about her hair. Looks like how I’d fix it on a rough morning. Then again, maybe it’s not that messy. But seriously, it kinda looks like a modern girl photoshopped in a painting.
- So, as I said, she was one of two survivors. Everyone else (that was captured around the same time as Suzanne) was carted away June 5, except number fourteen. The doctor and his entire family was shot in the street. This girl had some angel looking out for her. It’s amazing really to hear survivor stories. One mistake here, one lucky break there, one day before, one minute before, a few seconds after… you get the idea. In fact, she delivered a message mere minutes before the hair appointment. Sucks to be the other spy who got the message minutes before being caught…
- It’s also really amazing the sacrifices that one makes in war, or what sacrifices they USED to make in war. I heard a commentary about how we’re at war and a citizen without a soldier in the family doesn’t make many, if any, sacrifices, to show solidarity with the boys away from home. Very interesting. I don’t know how I feel about that, this isn’t meant to be a current commentary.
Grades: 4-8 Reading level-wise, it’s pretty simple. Story-wise, lots of kids would be interested in how a sixteen year old singer did her part to fight the Nazis.
Grade: B+/A- Awesome true story. The main points off are for making me sing Carmen when I had a seven hour trip to make. 🙂