Friday, June 24, 2011

Book Review: How Huge the Night by Heather and Lydia Munn

How Huge The Night by  Heather and Lydia Munn
Publisher: Kregel Publications
Publish Date: March 9, 2011
Paperback, 304 pages
Fiction, Young Adult
ISBN: 978-0825433108

My Review:

Why I read this book:  I am starting to like historical fiction more and more.  Add to that this is a young adult novel with a boy protagonist and I have one son getting closer and closer to being a teenager and I am interested in books that will be out there for him to read.  Not to mention the premise just sounded interesting!

My Thoughts: How Huge the Night is very thought-provoking, serious, yet loving and caring all in one package.  It's a story of God's grace and how people can use it to grace others around them who are in need.  It's a story of choices.  It's a story of growing up and making decisions that can affect the rest of your life.  All of that said, it really isn't that heavy of a story where you don't enjoy it and get lost in the lessons.  Contrary to that in fact, the lessons are subtle, but the story is first and foremost and entertaining and educational.

I love the character of Julien in this book.  I purposely seek out books where the protagonist is a boy because I have two boys of my own to raise and look forward to recommending great books to them one day soon.  Julien is your average teenager even though the time is during the late 1930s and the place is France, the teenager is universal.  He is brooding and sulky at the beginning because his family has been uprooted to move to a small town from the wonderful city of Paris.  They are now living on a farm with his Grandfather with another teenager he doesn't know as a border with them.  On top of it all, he has to find his place in a new school where his Dad is one of the teachers.  To be honest there is not much to like about Julien in the beginning.  Then you find out he likes soccer, but it's hard to get into the after-school games because they are ruled by the cool boys in the school and ultimately a boy named Henri.  Eventually he does get to play but then problems start.  And this is where Julien starts to grow on the reader and he himself begins to grow.

Julien continually questions God through the book and this is one of the things that helps him grow, here is one example:

In the evening, it was still the same: the radio, the cluster of faces around it. In the daytime, there was peace somehow--in the green of the land, in the strength of his legs, in the mass of solidity of the hills they climbed. But in bed at night, Julien tried fumblinglyy to pray and found no words. What did god have to do with German tanks overrunning the earth, with bombers pounding Rotterdam to blood and fire? What did God have to do with the blitzkrieg?
He didn't know.

As Julien tries to figure out right from wrong and goes from one day having a whole group of friends to the next having only Benjamin who lives with him but barely talks to him as a friend. Through this the reader gets to see Julien begin his transformation.  I liked how the people around him helped to form him and guide him.  His grandfather, his mother, Pastor Alexandre, the Rostins and others from the village for example.

And not only is there Julien and his village's story going on, but there is also the story of two teenagers, Nina and Gustav whose father dies as their part of the book opens. His dying words are for them to get out of Austria because he senses the evil coming.  So Nina becomes Niko, cuts her hair and binds herself so she looks like a boy and they head out to cross borders they should not be crossing and have adventures that leave them starving and broken only to eventually cross paths with the villagers in Julien's village of Tanieux.

I love how the Munn's weaved the two story lines together.  They worked great separately and I knew from the beginning they would come together but I didn't know how and this was just wonderful.

There is just so much to say about this book, the characters were great - all the main characters showed such growth that I was inspired.  To me one of the themes was one of compassion and it shines through throughout the book and the characters.  Another thing I think that was well done was the building of the suspense of the village waiting for occupation of the Germans.  I felt the tension and felt I was right there in the village waiting day after day for the soldiers to come.

This book is Christian, and there are references to God and Jesus and I thought the Pastor's sermons were wonderful, they were thoughtful, timely and on the level for a teenager and especially Julien (and ultimately the reader) to understand.  And even though those parts are there, I still feel the focus of the novel is showing God through good works and helping others.  I think that ties right into the compassion theme of the novel and was what the Munn's were going for in How Huge the Night.

How Huge the Night is magnificent, it is amazing, it will leave you thinking long after you have finished it and I look forward to their next book which according to the author's notes at the end may have more focus on the interment camps in France during World War II.  I think both of the authors have a firm grip on this time period and on the area and know how to weave an engaging story that you don't want to end.

My Rating:  5.0/5.0

About How Huge the Night:

Fifteen-year-old Julien Losier just wants to fit in. But after his family moves to a small village in central France in hopes of outrunning the Nazis, he is suddenly faced with bigger challenges than the taunting of local teens. Nina Krenkel left her country to obey her father's dying command: Take your brother and leave Austria. Burn your papers. Tell no one you are Jews. Alone and on the run, she arrives in Tanieux, France, dangerously ill and in despair.

Thrown together by the chaos of war, Julien begins to feel the terrible weight of the looming conflict and Nina fights to survive. As France falls to the Nazis, Julien struggles with doing what is right, even if it is not enough-and wonders whether or not he really can save Nina from almost certain death.

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.

About the Munn's:

Heather Munn was born in Northern Ireland and grew up in southern France where her parents were missionaries like their parents before them. She has a BA in literature from Wheaton College and now lives in a Christian intentional community in rural Illinois, where she and her husband, Paul, host free spiritual retreats for the poor, especially those transitioning out of homelessness or addiction. When not writing or hosting, she works on the communal farm. 

Lydia Munn, daughter of missionary parents, grew up in Brazil. She received a BA in literature from Wheaton College, and an MA in Bible from Columbia Graduate School of Bible and   Missions. With her husband, Jim, she has worked in church planting and Bible teaching since 1983, notably in St. Etienne, near the small town in the central mountains of France which forms the background of How Huge the Night. The Munns now live in Grenoble, France.

Other information about the authors and the book:

***I received this book from the publisher for the Kregel Blog Tour for an honest review.  I was not compensated in any other way except receiving the book for free.  I do not receive money for my amazon links since I live in NC (something about some law), so they are up purely for my readers to have a place to check out the book.***