Tuesday, August 9, 2016

REVIEW: Under the Same Blue Sky by Pamela Schoenewaldt

Under the Same Blue Sky
by Pamela Schoenewaldt

Publisher: William Morrow
Page Count: 352
Release Date: May 5, 2015
Format: Trade Paperback

How got: personal buy; via Amazon used

First attention getter: subject matter


From GoodReads:

From the USA Today bestselling author of When We Were Strangers and Swimming in the Moon comes a lush, exquisitely drawn novel set against the turmoil of the Great War, as a young German-American woman explores the secrets of her past.

A shopkeeper's daughter, Hazel Renner lives in the shadows of the Pittsburgh steel mills. She dreams of adventure, even as her immigrant parents push her toward a staid career. But in 1914, war seizes Europe and all their ambitions crumble. German-Americans are suddenly the enemy, "the Huns." Hazel herself is an outsider in her own home when she learns the truth of her birth.

Desperate for escape, Hazel takes a teaching job in a seemingly tranquil farming community. But the idyll is cracked when she acquires a mysterious healing power--a gift that becomes a curse as the locals' relentless demand for "miracles" leads to tragedy.

Hazel, determined to find answers, traces her own history back to a modern-day castle that could hold the truth about her past. There Hazel befriends the exiled, enigmatic German baron and forges a bond with the young gardener, Tom. But as America is shattered by war and Tom returns battered by shell-shock, Hazel's healing talents alone will not be enough to protect those close to her, or to safeguard her dreams of love and belonging. She must reach inside to discover that sometimes the truth is not so far away, that the simplest of things can lead to the extraordinary.

Filled with rich historical details and intriguing, fully realized characters, Under the Same Blue Sky is the captivating story of one woman's emergence into adulthood amid the tumult of war.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

A jaw-dropping portrayal of life on the home front during WWI, this book surprised me. I had braced myself after reading a few lukewarm reviews. However, I was sucked in by Hazel herself, the amazing atmospheric writing, and an engrossing story of a woman finding herself in a world gone mad. While not perfect, this book still stands as an outstanding example of historical fiction done right.

Hazel herself was a great POV to tell the story through. She started out an idealistic dreamer, facing the world with rose-tinted glasses as she started her teaching career. This was a mirror for the world, pre-WWI, where man could conquer anything and everything was possible.

As the story progresses, Hazel faces tragedy, war, illness, and death. Everything shapes her into a mature woman, equipped to face the trails of life with proficiency. I adored growing with her. Her journey and shaping was the heart of the story, connecting with the reader on a basic level.

If Hazel’s journey is the heart of the book, then its portrayal and tale of German-Americans plight during the war years are the soul. Never have I come across a book that goes this in-depth on the subject. I’ve seen it touched on and used as background before. Yet, this book had something special. The visceral reality of prejudice, violence, and cruelty that became the everyday life of German-Americans comes to vivid life. The author doesn’t scrimp; we get to see the gritty details with no holds barred.

The addition of a healing touch added a nice element to the story at first; in fact, it’s one of the things that attracted me to the book. A little fantasy is always welcome in my historical fiction. Yet, as the story went along, it became more of a burden than a blessing to the story.

I felt like the healing took the story into a different direction than expected; as the second half of the book started, we went in a different direction that didn’t have much to do with healing touch at all. That element of the story was dropped to the wayside and seemed to take precious story time in the beginning that went nowhere.

Despite that one little bump in the road, this book stands as an excellent piece of fiction. Telling an astounding tale of growth and perseverance through adversity, it can’t be paralleled. Even the healing touch aspect added to Hazel’s growth as a person and shaped how she approached the rest of her life decisions. Recommended for its unapologetic look at a dark time in our history and how it shaped the people that experienced it. It’s a tale that will suck you in!

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