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REVIEW: The War Outside, by Monica Hesse

September 25, 2018

I received this book for free from Hachette Books, Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

REVIEW: The War Outside, by Monica HesseThe War Outside by Monica Hesse
on September 25, 2018
Genres: Asian American, Historical, Military & Wars, Social Themes, United States, Young Adult, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 336
Format: ARC
Source: Hachette Books, Publisher
Amazon // The Book Depository

A stunning novel of conviction, friendship, and betrayal from Monica Hesse, the Edgar Award-winning and bestselling author of Girl in the Blue Coat

It's 1944, and World War II is raging across Europe and the Pacific. The war seemed far away from Margot in Iowa and Haruko in Colorado--until they were uprooted to dusty Texas, all because of the places their parents once called home: Germany and Japan.

Haruko and Margot meet at the high school in Crystal City, a "family internment camp" for those accused of colluding with the enemy. The teens discover that they are polar opposites in so many ways, except for one that seems to override all the others: the camp is changing them, day by day and piece by piece. Haruko finds herself consumed by fear for her soldier brother and distrust of her father, who she knows is keeping something from her. And Margot is doing everything she can to keep her family whole as her mother's health deteriorates and her rational, patriotic father becomes a man who distrusts America and fraternizes with Nazis.

With everything around them falling apart, Margot and Haruko find solace in their growing, secret friendship. But in a prison the government has deemed full of spies, can they trust anyone--even each other?

originally i gave this book one additional star, but the more i think about this book, the more i realize how mediocre it was for me?? it didn’t stick in my mind afterwards, and i don’t feel very strongly about it, even about the things i thought i liked.

The War Outside is a World-War-II-era historical fiction novel that talks about the intersecting experiences of two girls whose families are being held in Crystal City, an internment camp. i did like the premise for the novel! WW2 historical fiction tends to be my very favorite type of historical fiction, and somehow i’ve never read a book about the experiences of those in an internment camp.

the execution of the book was the problem for me. general theme for this review: “underdeveloped.”



the two main characters of the novel were Haruko, a japanese girl, and Margot, a german girl. i was super interested in Haruko’s story in particular because of the Japanese rep!

buuut i didn’t end up super loving or hating either character? i mostly felt detached from both of them as well as the rest of the characters in the story. the characterization wasn’t the best.

i also didn’t think the Asian rep was great. i would have loved to hear more about Haruko’s family and experiences being Japanese before the internment camp during this period of American history. something about the comparison of Haruko and Margot’s marginalization also turned me off. (i don’t remember the exact quote, just that it made me uncomfortable)

the one thing i really loved about the characters was their relationship with each other. there is NO WAY IN HELL that was platonic or “just a friendship.” IT WAS GAY, PEOPLE, GAAAYYYYY. there was a simple beauty in the way that Margot and Haruko gradually became more comfortable with each other and fell in love. i just wish we could have seen more development out of their relationship!
or maybe a more in depth exploration of their feelings for each other? the book just barely brushed against the idea of girls liking girls, and i wish it had done more with it!

on another note, i DID NOT like how their short relationship was ended and View Spoiler ».



the fact that this took place at a camp which held people of japanese, german, and italian (and also latin american; i read about it afterwards) was super intriguing! it had the potential to be a SUPER POWERFUL & INTERESTING & INTENSE setting.  honestly, i don’t think the full potential of this setting was utilized. i would have liked to learn more about the daily routine of the camp and the small candid moments (MORE HISTORICAL DETAIL PLS) that made the internment camp such an othering experience.

don’t get me wrong, the setting was pretty well written, but it could have been better.



there wasn’t really any plot in this book. which really wouldn’t bother me as i am most definitely a characters-over-plot person, but at the end of the book the author tried to create some kind of high tension, climax-of-the-plot-moment, and there wasn’t any plot to add a climax to. the book felt short and unfinished. all the events at the end felt rushed, and the pacing of the book was not my favorite. and it was just barely 300 pages! there was definitely room for some more story in there! it felt more like a collection of events than a completely cohesive novel with tension and a plot. plus, the ending felt pretty abrupt. i thought that the twist at the end about Ken was kinda irrelevant, didn’t work well with the rest of the story, and was mostly predictable. 🤷🏻‍♀️i wasn’t shocked, mostly because there wasn’t enough tension leading up to this reveal.

the one event in the story that i though worked well was the swimming pool scene & the aftermath of this referencing the Manzanar uprising. this sequence of scenes was super well-written and made a powerful point.

one last thing: the writing. i know this isn’t a debut, but it kinda read like one anyway. it felt a bit amateurish, and i wasn’t in love with it. there are certain books that immerse me in their writing style, like i forget i’m even reading at all, but i simply did not feel that with this book.


overall: the book kept brushing up against important topics. it could’ve been a truly amazing book if it had head-on tackled these topics. it felt like it was trying to appeal to more general audiences by giving readers just a taste of queer rep and having a pretty bland plot. i wish that it had approached the premise with more precise historical information. maybe it’s the fact that i read Pachinko just before this (a TRULY AMAZING adult historical fiction novel), but this book just paled in comparison with all the beautiful detail Pachinko had. i would recommend this to younger YA readers though!

Rating Report
Overall: 3

Madeline Huh

madeline is a sixteen-year-old bibliophile and book blogger. when she's not reading, she's probably running long distances, attempting to finish some of her never-ending homework load, or fangirling over donna tartt & ve schwab. she's also a huge design & biology nerd.