Review of Defy the Night: A Coming of Age Story Set During the Holocaust

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I’ve long been a fan of books set during World War 2 and the Holocaust. The horrors that happened during that time and the responses of those around are intriguing, and the courage of those who stood up against evil is inspiring. Defy the Night is based on true accounts of the bravery of young women who were instrumental in saving children from concentration camps. It’s a historical fiction, coming of age story from a mother daughter team.

Magali is a young French girl who wants to do something, anything to stand against the atrocities she hears about in the news. She lives in a secluded mountain village that is, so far, free from Nazi control. But she wants to help somehow. When Magali meets an aid worker who is involved in getting children out of camps in the Nazi occupied areas and bringing them to the small village for safety, Magali knows she’s found her calling. Unfortunately those around her- notably her parents- want to keep her safe. Magali is a little sure of herself as the book opens. She is outspoken but often only in her own head. She just knows that she can help this aid worker who she compares to Joan of Arc. As circumstances unfold, Magali finds herself in a position to help the children as she desires. And Magali finds herself growing and maturing more than she imagined.

I loved Defy the Night. It was a wonderful favorite to add to the books I’ve enjoyed from the World War 2 time period. I really loved Magali’s character. I know that I’m much (much, much) older than Magali; but I can so totally relate to Magali. She’s not perfect- which to me makes her a very likable character- but she is full of passion and energy and is a very compelling character. The story is hard to read because you know it is based very much on actual events. And the events of the day were horrific. But it’s also an inspiring story, a story of courageous people standing against evil- in many different ways.

Heather Munn and her mother Lydia shared with my how they became interested in writing about this time period:

Lydia says: When I was researching the events of World War II in France, I came across a book about the aid workers (almost all young women) who rescued Jewish children from the camps, and later, took them out of other dangerous situations to places where they could be safely hidden. I was so impressed by the courage and devotion of these young women, that I wanted their story to be told, alongside the story of the town of Le Chambon, which had first inspired me to begin this series. That was my inspiration for inventing the person of Paquerette, who embodies something of the experience of many of these aid workers. And it made sense to me that someone like her could have used a teenage helper sometimes, so that’s how Magali’s story began to develop.

Heather says: I’ve always been fascinated by World War II as well, because I’m very interested in good and evil, in human beings and why they make the choices they make. What made people risk their lives for others? (And what made others cooperate with the Nazis in oppression and evil?) Our first book, How Huge the Night, was more the one that explored how people made their initial choices, though; in 1941 when Defy the Night opens, Magali’s pretty clear on wanting to save people. But is wanting to save people enough? That’s the really interesting question in this story, to me. Magali wants to be a hero. I used to want that, as a teenager. And when you’re a teenager you often don’t realize just how much of that desire is actually wanting to be cool and impressive and special. What if being a hero is boring and grueling and you have to do it in secret and nobody ever finds out what you’ve done? What if it involves changing diapers and comforting kids who are screaming from nightmares and it doesn’t look impressive at all? The way that Mom had set up the initial framework of the plot (that’s how we work together–I take it from there) those were the issues I saw Magali coming up against as she learns what true heroism means. So that’s really what informed the parts of the plot that I came up with, like Magali’s complicated relationship with Nina and what she learns about her, etc. To me, growing up has a lot to do with facing reality, and that’s what I was trying to force Magali to do.

Heather and Lydia were also able to share with us some photos to illustrate the places in the story:

This is a photo of children in an actual internment camp such as the ones in the story.

These girls are in the Rivesaltes camp that Magali visits in the book.

These are internees arriving at Rivesaltes camp.

And these are pictures of Le Chambon sur-Lignon. This is the town represented by Magli’s mountain village in the story.

This is a moving story and one you won’t want to miss. For the week of the tour, you can find Defy the Night on sale for $1.99 as an ebook.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.

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