Saturday, November 24, 2012

How Huge the Night by Heather Munn and Lydia Munn

(from Goodreads):  Fifteen-year-old Julien Losier just wants to fit in. But after his family moves to a small village in central France in hopes of outrunning the Nazis, he is suddenly faced with bigger challenges than the taunting of local teens. Nina Krenkel left her country to obey her father's dying command: Take your brother and leave Austria. Burn your papers. Tell no one you are Jews. Alone and on the run, she arrives in Tanieux, France, dangerously ill and in despair.

Thrown together by the chaos of war, Julien begins to feel the terrible weight of the looming conflict and Nina fights to survive. As France falls to the Nazis, Julien struggles with doing what is right, even if it is not enough-and wonders whether or not he really can save Nina from almost certain death.


Children and teenagers are capable of both most noble and most cruel things. This is a novel which shows their internal conflicts when they have to decide between doing one or the other.

For Nina, the whole world is her enemy. The adults, especially men, are evil. The constant fight for survival and continuous disappointment with people she encounters drain her to the extent she welcomes the inevitable death. She loses all faith in people, so it takes a lot for her to start trusting people again and believing she is not beyond help. Basically throughout the book I just wanted to hug her, because she is a character you absolutely have to love and sympathise with.

Gustav is a heroic younger brother. His young age allows him to be less cynical than Nina, so he keeps believing in a good outcome. This attitude enables him to help them both make it through the worst.

Julien is an amazing, multi-dimensional character. He is uprooted from his home in Paris, he misses his friends and the city, and longs to be accepted by the popular kids in school. Between wanting to be popular and doing the right thing, he makes a few mistakes, not out of malice but more of an accidental teenage recklessness.

However, when Julien realises how serious things are, and learns the truth about the war, the Nazis, and the Jews, he does everything he can to not only do the right thing himself but also to convince others to do the same. I loved his approach to faith and God as resources of strength. I could relate to the simplicity of Julien's 'conversations' with God. Julien has a great advisor in his grandfather, and their relationship, as well as the kind of advice Julien gets from him, remained me very much of my late grandmother and her views, which was a great personal connection to this book for me.

There are a number of other characters, children as well as and adults, from Julien's schoolmates to his parents, worth mentioning. They each contribute an important nuance to making How Huge the Night an incredible read. Let me just mention one, the seeming antagonist, Henri. Though we view him mostly through Julien's eyes, it was fascinating to watch his development through the course of the novel.

In addition to the exceptional characters, How Huge the Night captures the atmosphere of the time very well. It depicts the lives and thoughts of ordinary people amidst the confusion, fear, and hunger. The propaganda and general lack of information made it easy to turn the blind eye and simply trust the officials. In such circumstances the selfless actions of the people helping those in need are truly noble and awe-inspiring.

Finally, another thing that I liked is the parallel the Munns draw between the persecution of the Huguenots and the Jewish people. It is a lesson on how to learn from history – Julien and others find help in making their judgement and decisions by drawing on their past as the persecuted minority, and find the compassion for those who are in the same situation at the moment.

All in all, How Huge the Night offers an amazing depiction of a small part of Wold War II in France trough its characters and plot as well as its message. As Christian fiction this novel manages to avoid being preachy or corny and still convey its message: it is important to keep faith in people because no matter how harsh the situation, people can surprise you and one can find friends in unlikely places. 

RECOMMENDATION: Fans of historical YA books will like How Huge the Night. It has sad and happy moments, and plenty of suspense to keep you on the edge. And generally, this story is a balm for heart and soul. This book is a stand-alone, but in its case I would not mind a sequel at all.

5 stars

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