After fifteen-year-old Tamar’s beloved grandfather commits suicide, it is three months before she can bring herself to open the old box of keepsakes he left her. When she does, the odd assortment of WWII memorabilia that dates back to his days as a spy for the Allied Forces in Nazi-occupied Holland holds little meaning for her. Until she looks closer, and realizes that “Grandad hadn’t been mad when he put these things in it. I knew that these things fitted together in some way, and I had to find out how.” Using a set of maps, an old crossword puzzle, and a bundle of money that adds up to 1945, Tamar sets out on a journey along the English river she was named for to uncover the past of a man she thought she knew. Alternating chapters tell the story of her grandfather’s final dangerous mission into occupied Holland during the terrible “Hunger Winter” when the Dutch people were slowly starving to death waiting for the Allies to come. Working undercover, he and his partner were given orders to try and unite the chaotic Dutch Resistance; desperate rag-tag groups of men who did whatever they could to undermine the Nazi’s efforts, including stealing supplies and bombing roads. What he did there had always been a total mystery to his family…until now. The two stories finally converge in the shocking truth that drove Tamar’s grandfather to suicide, leaving Tamar with a new understanding of the complicated man who asked that she be named for his code-name: a beautiful, winding river that could be both treacherous and calm. Friends, I loved this epic story, but I’m not going to lie, it was a struggle to get into. Clocking in at just over 400 pages, it takes a while to get going. But those last hundred pages make the initial slog through the first hundred all worth it. Full of espionage, romance, and incredibly brave acts of derring-do, this satisfying war-time tome is like six-course banquet, so don’t sit down to it unless you’re ready for a serious feast of historical fiction!
Tamar by Mal Peet