By Sierra Maciorowski
Picture a lonely island, hidden in the mists of the English Channel. Recently occupied by the German Nazis, this island is still struggling to recover, and recover its vitality. The year is 1946. Children are finally returning to their families, people are finally able to gorge themselves on food after many months of near-starvation, and the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society need not exist any longer. It has outlived its original purpose, as a cover story in the Nazi occupation, but its members cannot give it up.
Add into this continuing society vivacious, quirky characters, like Dawsey Adams, a farmer, Isola the vegetable seller, Will Thisbee, the creator of the first potato peel pie, and Elizabeth, the vanished founder of the literary society.
Quick-witted and sharp, Elizabeth’s story is unearthed by an outsider, Juliet Ashton. Juliet is a writer in England, who was once the owner of a book by Charles Lamb entitled the Selected Essays of Elia. This book somehow ends up in the hands of Dawsey, and he considers it his duty to write to her, as her name is still in the book. Juliet immediately responds, forming a long friendship and months and months of correspondence with this man and his friends. Fascinated by the topic, Juliet realizes that what she wants more than anything else is to write about the mysterious Society.
Immediately heading to the island of Guernsey does no favors for her career or personal relationships, but she knows that something is calling her to the island, and she will not rest until she hears the stories of the recently oppressed islanders. After many interviews with the Society members and other notable people of the community, she begins to love the island, and cannot bear to think of returning to England. How can she return, when her heart is in Guernsey?
This incredibly quirky historical-fiction novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and her niece Annie Barrows explains many things about the Nazi occupation. Most people don’t even realize that Guernsey exists, let alone that it was occupied by the Nazis, but the occupation of the Channel Islands in World War II was an extremely oppressive and destructive one. With a recovering society to keep in mind, Juliet must carefully excavate the details of the occupation, and hear the stories of the oppressed.
Although these tales of woe are filled with dreadful details, deaths, and hatred, woven throughout are small moments of love, hope, and friendship. Juliet, like her Shakespearean namesake, begins to fall irrevocably in love with a man far outside her comfort zone, and she begins to see that not all things must fit perfectly together in order to work out.