Cover of Bluebird. Photo of a young woman on the streets of 1940s New York with her back to the view. A reversed image on top shows her walking in a concentration camp

About the Book

Title: Bluebird
Published: 2021

Cover Story: The World Turned Upside Down
Drinking Buddy: Na Zdrowie!
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (Historical atrocities, violence)
Talky Talk: PTSD
Bonus Factors: Commune
Anti-Bonus Factor: Nazis, MKULtra
Relationship Status: History Lecturer

Cover Story: The World Turned Upside Down

I like the mirror images. It goes to show you can make a good book cover with a couple of stock photos, provided you get creative.

The Deal:

It’s 1946. New York City is awash with European refugees, displaced people looking to start over in a new land, far away from the horrors of the war and the camps. People who have lost their homes, their families, or their minds, all they want to do is forget.

Into this mix, we find young Eva and Annemarie, two German girls who have seen the ugly side of the war up close. Annemarie got the worst of it. She can barely function and without Eva’s help, would lapse into screaming fits or catatonia. Eva looks out for her companion, but she has another mission. She lost track of her father during the war, and she has reason to believe he wound up in NYC. She’s going to arrange a surprise family reunion. Won’t her father be shocked to see little Eva, all grown up after all this time? It’ll be a meeting he’ll remember the rest of his life.

Unfortunately, other people are looking for Daddy as well. Eva must find him first, so she can settle old scores.

Drinking Buddy: Na Zdrowie!

Two pints of beer cheersing

Now Eva was not the kind of girl who really suffered during the war. German by birth, the war didn’t become real to her wealthy family until everything suddenly went south and all these Russian soldiers showed up. But she managed to get out, and to get Annemarie out. Now she’s living in a strange country, filled with people who subtly or overtly resent all things German. Also, there’s those men in the highly polished shoes who would really like her help in locating her father. One wrong move, and she could find herself deported, or worse. On top of all that, she realizes how lucky she was to get out of Europe with her body and sanity intact…unlike Annemarie.

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (Historical atrocities, violence)

We all know what happened during the war. And since most of this book takes place in 1946, we’re spared graphic descriptions. Most of what we see is the aftermath, with broken people trying to rebuild their lives in a devastated continent. On the other hand, what happened in regular Germany society was pretty horrifying as well. Through the eyes of Inge, a German girl from an important family, we get to see what a real Third Reich education was like for girls. Pump out more Aryan babies for the Fatherland!

For many Germans, the real war started when Berlin fell and the country came under the control of the Allies, including the Soviets, who had no problem in taking women as reparations. Can Eva forget all this and start a new life in the US? Or does she have a final score to settle?

Talky Talk: PTSD

This was one of those dual narrative books where we kind of start in the middle of the story and fill things in via flashbacks. It works in this novel, though I was relieved when the past and present timelines finally intersected.

Eva was an authentic voice. She was determined to finish things with her father, but not single-minded enough to ignore Jake, the smart-ass Jewish kid who takes her to jazz clubs and makes her smile. Why not just put the war behind her, find a safe place for Annemarie, and get on with her life? But then she remembers…

Props to the author for not making Eva instantly fluent in English, needing clarification about unfamiliar words and American customs.

Bonus Factor: Commune

An eclectic dorm or apartment

Eva, with the help of a mysterious benefactor, drops anchor at the Powell House, a home in New York City for…basically anyone who needs it. Refugees, homeless, the mentally ill, all are welcome here. The staff is diverse, ranging from Quakers to Jews, and it’s one of the few places in the US that ignores the racial divide (almost unbelievably so). Everyone is unfailingly nice to Eva, uninterested in what she might have done to survive in Europe. A girl could get really comfortable there, you know?

Anti-Bonus Factor: Nazis

Anti Nazi Symbol

So didn’t anyone think ‘You ever get the feeling we, as a nation, are going down a really dark path and history isn’t going to forgive us?’ Well, to most Germans, tales of prison camps and ovens were nothing but Allied propaganda. However, there was a lot of national brainwashing going on to get everyone to accept the yellow stars and race education. Eva doesn’t try to excuse herself for once believing in this…but maybe she can help make amends.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Project MKUltra

The brainwashed doctor from The Naked Gun, ready to smother a patient with a pillow

MKUltra was a CIA project, which used hallucinogens and brainwashing in a series of mind control experiments. These had their roots in Nazi psychological research (don’t look shocked; collaborating with ex-Nazis landed us on the moon). But what if you’d brainwashed someone so thoroughly that they would unquestionably obey you? That they’d kill–kill someone they loved–at your command? Is that possible? Eva has a sinking feeling that it just might be. So do some US government agents, who’d really like to speak with Eva’s father. And so do some Soviet agents who feel the same way. Who will get to him first?

Relationship Status: History Lecturer

I enjoyed this trip back in time. Not to the war, but to the optimistic days just after, before the cold war started.

FTC Full Disclosure: The Publisher sent me not one, but two free copies of this book, but no money.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.