Author: Heather Munn & Lydia Munn
Release Date: February 1, 2014
Reviewer: Jen ROman
It’s the beginning of World War II, and young teen Magali lives in France with her parents, brother, and some political refugees. While France is still considered “safe,” at least where she lives, Magali knows things are actually quite dangerous. Jews, even French Jews, are being rounded up and put in French concentration camps. Her refugee friends keep a watchful eye everywhere they go. Food is scarce, and German soldiers are starting to appear in their plateau town.
Magali wants to do something to help the war effort, and when she sees women rescuing children from the camps, she knows that’s what she is meant to do. It takes some deft persuasion skills on her part to convince her parents to let her leave school for a year to focus full-time on this undertaking. She travels with a woman known as Paquerette, and she enlists a group of select friends to work with them. Together, these brave women rescue hundreds of children and take them on a lifesaving but arduous journey to a safe home, where they will be loved and given a new chance at life.
Although these women are authorized to take the children to safety, things could change at the drop of a hat, so Magali and Paquerette are constantly on edge. Throughout these dangerous journeys, they experience all kinds of odd situations: a child runs away and bites someone; they have a sickly baby die; Magali flirts with a German soldier to draw attention away from the group; and, most importantly, Paquerette is arrested and Magali has to take the children back home on her own. Magali starts out as a foolish, naive young girl of fifteen, but by the time her tenure is over, she is a seasoned, worldly woman of sixteen. She sees horrors that nobody should have to face, let alone endure, and she uses her wits to save her charges on numerous occasions.
This book covers a topic that not many others do: the evacuation of thousands of Jewish and refugee children out of camps and into safe homes. While France was not yet occupied at the time, there were definite German “rules” in place and the locals were afraid. They didn’t know what to expect, whom to trust, or how they were going to get through, yet they did. Many formed intricate networks to make fake papers for others, and still others used those papers to smuggle Jews and refugees out of France. Magali was a member of just one of many groups working to get children out of the camps. Even then, there was an age limit on who could be released; older teens had pretty much no chance of getting rescued.
While this story is fiction, it is based on true events and real people and places. How people react to a challenging situation is often said to show their true character, and in this book, readers can see what kind of people there were. Some went with the flow, some quietly rebelled, some openly rebelled, and others put others ahead of themselves. Seeing how each character reacted was both interesting and heartbreaking. The characters, while not overly developed, showed a good portion of society to see how events affect each and every one of us. The book was informative and educational, and the topic was interesting. I really enjoyed this book for the view into something that not many people know.
Defy the Night is set during a time of world history that most people know about but don’t necessarily understand. It discusses concentration camps, filthy conditions, and the heartbreaking separations of families. People are persecuted for their religious beliefs or for their home country. While it doesn’t contain flagrant violence, the images of how people were treated are disturbing and chilling. There is no profanity or sex of note. For this reason, I recommend this book for mature teens and older.