Minda’s drunk review of The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles
What I drank prior: Juuuust enough white wine while a certain toddler is sleeping to be feeling really ducking good.
Based on the true World War II story of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris, this is an unforgettable story of romance, friendship, family, and the power of literature to bring us together, perfect for fans of The Lilac Girls and The Paris Wife.
Paris, 1939: Young and ambitious Odile Souchet has it all: her handsome police officer beau and a dream job at the American Library in Paris. When the Nazis march into Paris, Odile stands to lose everything she holds dear, including her beloved library. Together with her fellow librarians, Odile joins the Resistance with the best weapons she has: books. But when the war finally ends, instead of freedom, Odile tastes the bitter sting of unspeakable betrayal.
Montana, 1983: Lily is a lonely teenager looking for adventure in small-town Montana. Her interest is piqued by her solitary, elderly neighbor. As Lily uncovers more about her neighbor’s mysterious past, she finds that they share a love of language, the same longings, and the same intense jealousy, never suspecting that a dark secret from the past connects them.
A powerful novel that explores the consequences of our choices and the relationships that make us who we are—family, friends, and favorite authors—The Paris Library shows that extraordinary heroism can sometimes be found in the quietest of places.
My Summary: It’s 1939 and Odile just landed her DREAM job at the American Library in Paris. Unfortunately, for her and all of Paris, the Germans are preparing for the invasion of France and she needs to decide what lengths she’ll go to protect her subscribers, her books, and her family. And at what cost? Fast forward 50-ish years in the future, Odile is living in Montana as a widow of an American soldier who she met in WWII. When her nosy teenage neighbor comes calling, she sees herself in her and takes the girl under her wing and faces her past.
Spoiler-free Thoughts: Historical fic lover over here, but I love that this is based on the true story about the American Library in Paris during WWII. This is a story I haven’t heard or read that much, and it’s a fascinating one! That said, I adored the 1930-40 portions of the book much more than the ‘80s, even though I understood what it was doing. Still enjoyed and am rating highly, but I just wish I got more of Margaret, Miss. Reeder, and Bitsi’s stories, not to mention Remi and Paul’s. Also, I love the way she talks and thinks in book quotes to describe something she’s seeing. And the intersploced Dewey decimals. And called everyone “a subscriber.”
Side note: They referenced ALA event in Chicago in the past time!!
Characters: Let’s start in the “pre” portion. Odile is a librarian and book lover (synonyms?) who just wants to make her own way in the world. She lives with her parents who are more traditional in their ways and just want her to land a husband and her twin brother Remy who has been by her side since day one. Even in the past, I could relate to her so hard. In the course of her first few weeks leading up to and after joining at ALP, she meets a rich cast of characters in Paul (her bf), Miss Reeder (head of ALP), Margaret (her new friend), Bitsi (her brother’s SO), and many memorable others. In the “present” portion, we have Lily, a Montana teen healing from her mother’s untimely death. And that might be about it, besides older Odile who is still totally saucy.
Plot: Initially I found the book hard to get into. But once *catalyst* happens in the past, boy does Odile’s story spice up! I loved reading the writer’s take on wartime in France—what it means to give what you can and what it means to stay behind. There’s a pretty hard moral arc to the story, even if that’s not exactly why I was here for it. I thought it was a little harsh. The Montana 1983 parts were slower and I found myself skipping to the next 1940s bit in more than a few cases and going back later. I think it’s in part because that didn’t have as much historical context to it and was more a sad story about a teen who just lost her mom (tragic) and doesn’t feel like she fits in. The way it ties together is beautiful, but I’d still have preferred we stuck to the past.
World Building: The world building is very strong for WWII-era occupied Paris. I could really feel and understand the anger, if sorely misplaced in many cases. The Montana small town was not as interesting to me, but that’s just one persons opinion. Could be literally any small town in America at literally any time period.
Writing Style: As references above, the plot takes place in two different timelines—one starting in 1939 and the other in 1983. Odile is the predominant narrator in the former and Lily is the predominant narrator in the latter.
Drink Pairing: It’s a little cliche, but a French 75.
Rating: 4/5 shots. It would have been 5/5 if the book had just focused on the 1930-40s time period!