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You’re running in a dark forest, the full moon’s light illuminating spots of the ground through the trees. Fallen leaves crinkle under your feet as you sprint mindlessly. You’re just trying to get anywhere away from your enemies; they’re out to get you. Suddenly, the sounds of a truck echo through the woods, causing a galvanizing feeling of panic to pass through you. Well...I’ve never been this nervous holding a book. Like many gripping accounts from World War II, the characters all had a universal fear looming from one towering figure of antagonism: Nazi Germany. To be honest, it never gets old. As horrible as it was for people to be locked up in concentration camps back then, each story – imagined or true – needs to be retold. In the amazing historical fiction titled Rescue by Jennifer A. Nielsen, I am rooting for Margaret to escape for freedom—but the many challenges she endured really speaks to what humanity means to us all. In this review, I want to share some of it with you.

Margaret, also known as Meg, lives in France at the time of the war. She and her father would play a game where one of them creates a code for the other to decode. They would do this every day, until Meg’s father got drafted into the war. Her father’s parting gift was a jar full of tiny paper slips with many codes written on them, each for her to decode. Her father had promised her that by the time she finished the last riddle, he would come back. There was only one slip of paper left, and her father still hadn’t come back for three years.

Already, I’m thinking to myself about impossible choices. Even though the reality looks grim, why are we so driven by the small sliver of hope? An injured British pilot shows up to Meg’s family’s farm, and the catalyst begins. Basically, she was told this:

Decode the last riddle. If you do, it’ll likely cost you your life. If you succeed, however, you can maybe have eternal freedom.

In times of struggle, when it’s so easy to give up, why do we make the illogical choice of bravery and sacrifice? Of course there are those who do give up, but Meg is the symbol of determination for many. When we look at history, we sometimes forget how brave some of these people were. Helping strangers along the way? Even braver. I look at our world now. Do we have what it takes to be brave? If our comfortable lives were turned upside down suddenly, would we fight for freedom again and save each other? I think about this often when I read historical fiction, the fun what-ifs.

The plot twists in this book seriously deserve a gold medal. I think Nielsen’s portrayal of humans – sometimes the people that you trust the most end up betraying you – made me accept the good and the bad parts of being human. It hurts, like war itself, but that is something we cannot run away from. It might be practical to be selfish, but in the end, what makes us unreasonable is also the thing that makes us chase for what’s worth fighting for. When you’re ready to escape for that something, join me in reading Rescue. Who knows, you might even rescue yourself? :)

Rescue by Jennifer A. Nielsen. Scholastic Press, 2022. Buy the book here and support Stone Soup in the process!

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