Just in case getting a little scared while lounging on your beach towel isn’t quite your thing, here’s another option for a little summertime reading: Jojo Moyes. Y’all know I love her. Me Before You…just gah. The woman knows how to write a great story. I picked up one of her latest, The Girl You Left Behind, on a whim one day while I was trolling around the library stacks. Obviously her name alone was enough to pique my interest, but the cover is gorgeous as always, and it was lust at first sight.
Which quickly turned into love at, oh, about page two. What can I say, I’m easy that way.
Thankfully, The Girl You Left Behind is nothing like Me Before You. In a good way. It’s still incredible, but my tear ducts were very appreciative not to have quite the same workout. As with so many of my favorite pieces of chick lit (Sarah Jio, I’m looking at you), the story is actually two stories woven together. The novel opens in 1916 with Sophie Lefevre, a Frenchwoman whose artist husband Edouard has left her to fight in the war. With her sister, she runs the family hotel and restaurant despite the fact that the town has nothing. When it is occupied by German soldiers, they are forced to host the soldiers, and in an effort to maintain some semblance of normalcy, Sophie has kept a portrait of herself, her most prized possession painted by Edouard, hanging on the hotel wall. The local Kommandant is drawn to it and they strike up what is something close to friendship, or at least as friendly as you can be with an enemy soldier who has a crush on you but could still take you and your family out at a moment’s notice. Sophie uses her influence to risk everything to find Edouard again – at the cost of her dear painting.
We then meet modern-day Liv, whose husband has suddenly died, leaving her alone…with Sophie, the only work of art they had in their one-of-a-kind glass house in London. Trying to break out of her glass cage of emotion, Liv goes out and meets Paul, a retired American detective who now helps uncover stolen art. Yadda-yadda-yadda, he sees the painting that conveniently is part of his new case. What follows is Paul and Liv’s search into the past, Sophie’s past to be exact, to try and uncover the truth behind the painting’s journey. A legal battle ensues with the couple on opposing sides, Liv fighting alone to keep the one thing she loves most and to hold on to the memories of her husband.
I was totally sucked in by this book. Like read-it-in-a-weekend hooked. I was completely charmed by Sophie and loved her part of the story – it was dramatic and full of heart. Sophie herself is strong and brave, even when the townspeople turn on her and she has nothing left. The details and complications of daily life during the German occupation were gritty and thought-provoking and of course I won’t lie, the Edouard and Sophie love story was riveting. We all know, epilogues are tricky and some are simply not great (Mockingjay, anyone?), but this one was perfect for the hopeless romantic I will always be. Trust me, it is exactly the ending you would want for people who suffer so much. The last half of the book moves at a breakneck pace to wrap up both Liv and Sophie’s stories and I found myself wanting to pump the brakes so I wouldn’t finish so quickly. But of course I couldn’t and now I’m itching to reread it. Though not as heartbreaking as Me Before You, I did feel the losses of the two women and loved how despite their grief, they both found strength to make hard decisions and fight through their consequences.
All in all, The Girl You Left Behind was touching and powerful. Like I said before, Jojo Moyes knows how to write a great story weaving polarizing topics, different plot strands & well developed characters together into a great escapist read.
Rating: 9, Just Shy of Perfect (Can’t put it down! Well rounded with exceptional characters and style.)