Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Teen/YA Review: Almost Autumn

I know – I keep saying I have overloaded on World War II novels, but then I keep reading them! This summer, I listened to Almost Autumn by Marianne Kaurin (translated by Rosie Hedger) on audio. It’s a teen/YA WWII novel set in Norway during the Nazi occupation.

Fifteen-year old Ilse Stern is a typical teenager living in Oslo in 1942. Her mind is filled with thoughts of dresses, the cinema, and her next-door neighbor, Hermann, who is a lifelong friend but now might become something more. She lives with her older sister and parents in a small apartment and helps out in her father’s tailoring shop. Ilse’s secret dream is to use her seamstress skills to work as a costume designer for the theater

On a cold October day, Ilse puts on a summer dress because Hermann once admired her in it and sets off to meet him at the cinema for their first official date. She waits and waits on a bench outside, but Hermann never shows up, and she finally returns home broken-hearted. The next time she sees Hermann, he barely even mentions their missed date, and Ilse is left confused and hurt.

What Ilse doesn’t know is that Hermann is secretly working for the Resistance, helping Jews to escape Norway. No one knows of his work, except the man whom he works with. His parents and Ilse both think he is taking painting lessons from this man. He does like Ilse – very much – but he has more important things occupying his time.

Although Ilse is very naïve and seems mostly unaware of the effects of the Nazis in Norway, the war begins to seep into her consciousness bit by bit. She notices that her father’s business has dropped off, that some people will no longer visit his shop, and that rations are getting tighter and tighter as food becomes more scarce. Her father wants to protect her and so does not talk about what is going on in the world or the trials his business faces, even though Ilse works there with him. Finally, the war comes home to the Stern family, in a startling and terrible way.

I’m becoming something of an expert on WWII fiction, and this novel has a couple of unique characteristics: it is set in Norway, a country that was occupied but not in the midst of the fighting, and it focuses in on the fascinating role of chance. Through Hermann, Ilse and her family, the story explores how random circumstance could affect whether someone was captured, survived, or died during the war. It was also interesting to see the unfolding of the Nazi occupation through the eyes of a young girl who was mostly ignorant of world events (though that means the reader’s perspective on the occupation is also limited). Overall, I enjoyed the novel and its unique perspectives, though I didn’t find it as compelling as Projekt 1065, another recently read teen/YA WWII novel.

278 pages, Arthur A. Levine (an imprint of Scholastic)

For those looking for good World War II fiction portraying different perspectives of the war and its aftermath, in addition to Almost Autumn, I also recommend Project 1065 by Alan Gratz (teen/YA about a boy in Germany spying for the Allies), The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck (women in Germany after the war), and The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (women’s roles during WWII in occupied France).

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Almost Autumn
by Marianne KaurinHardcover


  1. I haven't heard of this book before. Like you I seem to think I am done with WWII but keep getting sucked back in to reading another one anyway. I might give this one a try.

    1. There are just so many out there! Interestingly, though, authors are still coming up with new angles!

  2. Like you, I can't quite stop reading WWII novels and I haven't read one set in Norway so maybe I'll give this one a try.

    1. There always seems to be a new angle that we haven't read before!