Friday, September 27, 2013

Book Review: "The Girl You Left Behind" by Jojo Moyes

I had never heard of Jojo Moyes before I read her last book, Me Before You, earlier this year. As I mentioned in my review of that book, it kicked my a-- emotionally, and it will definitely be included on my list of the best books I read in 2013.

Needless to say, following that book definitely raised my expectations about her latest, The Girl You Left Behind. And while this book may not have left me an emotional wreck, it, too, was tremendously satisfying, compelling, and overall, a terrific read.

During World War I, Sophie Lefevre is left alone with her sister, her niece and nephew, and her teenage brother when her artist husband, Edouard, goes off to fight. When their French town is taken over by German soldiers, Sophie and her family find their small hotel becomes the place the soldiers eat their dinner each night. While this move creates a great deal of work for Sophie and her sister, Helene, it also gives them a chance to get supplies and other comforts that have been stripped from them since the occupation began, and this causes some resentment and suspicion among their neighbors.

Sophie also catches the attention of the new Kommandant, who appears to be a man conflicted about his role in the war. The Kommandant is also drawn to a painting of Sophie that her husband did shortly after they met. Risking her life and the lives and well-being of her family, as well as her reputation, Sophie decides to leverage the Kommandant's interest to help reunite her with her husband. But the consequences of this request have far-reaching implications.

Fast forward nearly 100 years. The painting of Sophie was given to Liv Halston as a gift from her architect husband, and it remains one of her most treasured possessions after his unexpected death. When a random series of events calls the painting's provenance into question, Liv is forced into fighting to hold onto this keepsake, even as an unpleasant truth is uncovered, and even though the risks of her fighting cost her financially and emotionally.

This is a powerful book about courage, fighting for what you believe in no matter what happens around you and no matter what the consequences, and the power of love. It also is an interesting exploration about the way art and other valuables were seized during the first and second World Wars, which I'd always heard about but never really thought much about.

What I love so much about the way Moyes writes is that she creates complex characters that are more than meets the eye. She's not afraid to give them flaws, to make them slightly unlikeable. She draws you into the plot immediately, and you find yourself hooked, because you need to know how the plot will be resolved. The Girl You Left Behind proves that the appeal and the success of Me Before You wasn't just a fluke, and now I'll need to go back and read some of her earlier novels.

Simply put, Jojo Moyes is an author to add to your reading list if you haven't already, and then you'll find that at least her two most recent books are utterly worth reading.

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