Violins of Autumn

Violins of Autumn by Amy McAuley

I had been hoping for another spy entry from the world of historical fiction, so when I saw this title mentioned by Ms. Yingling, I couldn’t resist.

Shipped off to a Swiss boarding school at a young age, 17 year old Betty speaks perfect French and passable German.  As World War II rages around her, she finds herself in a position to do something to help.  Remade as 22 year old Adele Blanchard, she is dropped into France with three other operatives.  She’ll be a bike courier, while Denise, the other woman sent in with her, will be a wireless operator.  In the French countryside, they meet members of the Resistance who just may need their help in a few side missions.  As they head to Paris, they rescue a downed US airman.  Their lives are in continual danger as they do their best to help the Allied Forces as they await D-Day and eventual salvation.

I enjoyed the friendship between the girls and the romance(s) were done with a light hand and not the driving force behind the book.  I also appreciated the there was a far amount of disdain for the girls from many fronts until they had proven themselves.  It seems more in keeping with the times than many recent historical novels that gloss over the treatment of women in the past in order to create strong heroines.  Women that succeeded often did so by overcoming their situation not simply because they deserved to.

Great for: Readers of Code Name Verity who want more girls as spies novels.  While this lacks the complexity of Code Name Verity, it will certainly scratch the itch. And while there are some trivial romances throughout, it is at its heart, a book about friendship between girls.  This will also suit for readers who cannot handle the violence or are not up to the challenging reading level of Code Name Verity.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – Adele frequently comments on the relative attractiveness of men. She imagines a man wearing a Tarzan like outfit.  A girl promises to go on a date with a German soldier. A young soldier confesses he’s never kissed a girl.  There is hand-holding. There is some kissing.  Some is pretty innocent.  Other kissing is horizontal and filled with tension.
Profanity – “give ’em hell”, “bloody hell,” “My God,” “bullshit,” “Good Lord,” “arse,” “bastards,” “damn,” “bitch,” a German soldier says something against homosexuals. “son of a bitch”, “god-awful,” “jerk,”
Death, Violence and Gore – The book opens in a Gestapo prison.  Handcuffs cause skin to a “bloody mash”. Torture is employed.  It’s not described in much detail, but there is some use of ice water and burning and frequently you see how bruised, worn out, helpless people are after the torture.  People are taken prisoner.  If you are caught in civilian clothes rather than in uniform you can be executed as a spy.  There’s a reference to Bonnie and Clyde being gunned down by police.  As this takes place during World War II, Jews are captured and sent to camps.  The girls learn that atrocities are committed against children (none are described). A man is killed for speaking out.  The main character’s mother and brother were killed in an accident when she was small.  Her mother’s brother was killed during World War I.  A bicyclist cuts his chin. There is a plane crash.  Soldiers are killed in action.  People fear being shot and are shot at.  A German soldier drowns.  The girls remember the Blitz. One remembers seeing a man carry a bloodied woman who is only partially clothed.  There is a fist fight.  A girl must shoot someone. A girl’s fiance was killed. A traitor is shot. A character recounts the first time she shot an animal.  A few fairly major characters are killed throughout the course of the book. They visit the catacombs, which are quite appropriately filled with bones and skulls.  A prison guard has a bloody hole where an eye should be.  Women who collaborated with the enemy have their heads shaved and are hit.  Various weapons are mentioned such as guns, pistols, demolition packs, hidden explosives, grenades,
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – The girls smoke.  A girl worked as a barmaid. Men drink pints. Soldiers smoke. The girls drink champagne and wine. Adele remembers an earlier time when she was drunk.
Frightening or Intense Things – It’s a war!  There are Nazis.  There’s nothing particularly frightening beyond what is described in the violence section.




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One Response to Violins of Autumn

  1. Ms. Yingling says:

    I’m glad that you got to read this one. It is a facet of WWII that many of my students won’t know about.

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