Sharon Cameron demonstrated her ability to write engrossing historical fiction based on real events in her masterful book, “The Light in Hidden Places.” In some ways, “Bluebird,” based on real, shocking events, is the antithesis of that story. As a contrast to the first story that focuses on heroes that appeared in unlikely places during WWII, “Bluebird” unveils true villains who masqueraded as heroes. The main character, Eva, is a veritable hero, but we meet many of the truly evil beings whose bigotry, arrogance, and racial prejudice stoked the fires of hate during that time.
The story alternates between two timelines: February, 1945 and August, 1946. Teenagers and neighbors, Inge and Annemarie are good friends in Hitler’s Germany in 1945, and together they attend meetings for the League of German Girls, where they learn about good German girls doing their duty and having babies with German officers for the good of Germany. In the later timeline, 1946, we see Eva and Brigit on an ocean liner arriving in America. Eva is caring for Brigit, who is unable to speak and is easily frightened. At first, we don’t know the relationship between the two girls.
Cameron uses the alternate timelines to slowly reveal the story, and it works quite well in allowing us to see the brutal mistreatment of Inge by her German family, Eva’s insecurity, and Brigit’s disability and how it all came to be. In this case, as the layers of onion get peeled away, opening our eyes to the girls’ past, we ultimately find out that the core of the onion is putrid and rotten. But just as even a rotten onion can show new growth, shoots coming out to form a new plant, Eva is strong and resilient. Will she be able to overcome the damage done to her? Is she possibly a danger to those around her? Or will she finally be able to blossom and grow in America.
Cameron shares some characters who are certainly based on real people, and while many of those characters are vile and share unspeakably horrid beliefs, there are also those who are kind, loyal and egalitarian. Learning about those who promote equality is uplifting, especially when Cameron shows us clearly that America, while not murdering millions of Jews and others, was in some ways as racist and filled with bigotry as Germany.
There’s some romance, some disappointment, and some truly heroic moments. There is also plenty of disgust as we see that both the American government and the Soviets were perfectly willing to look past the murderous and sick studies of German scientists in order to gain their knowledge. The Author’s Note is filled with some of that history which is vile and will make readers ashamed of our country. But Cameron also shares information about some of the groups that worked to make things better in our country. Some are still working to make things better because while WWII was long ago, some things have not changed enough. When fascists march in the streets chanting “Jews will not replace us,” it seems, chillingly, that WWII Germany is not that far off.
This is an important book for older middle grade readers. Because of some of the content, I wouldn’t recommend it for children under 12. It’s a book that will fascinate as it chills, and it would be a wonderful choice for a book club or school book group so that children would have a forum for discussing what they are reading. I think that having an outlet to ask questions and formulate opinions will help students understand their feelings about the book and help them understand why bigotry and hatred are never the answers. It’s a complex story, but Cameron performs her miracle of making history come alive through the stories of teenagers who are living it.
Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s copy provided by Scholastic Press, the publisher, for review purposes.