I really liked half of this book and really disliked the other half.
In 1995, seventeen-year-old Jacob goes to Amsterdam to meet Geertrui, the woman who took care of his injured grandfather during World War II. Geertrui is too ill to spend much time talking to Jacob, so she writes him a letter that explains the secret love affair that she had with his grandfather. The chapters alternate points-of-view. Half of the book is about Jacob’s trip to Amsterdam. The other half is Geertrui’s letter.
I’m conflicted about this book because I love Geertrui’s chapters, but I was constantly tempted to skim Jacob’s. Geertrui’s chapters are about how she fell in love with a wounded British soldier who she was hiding from the Germans. In her story, there’s tension and drama and likeable characters. In Jacob’s story, there’s . . . pretty much nothing. He travels from his home in England and wanders around Amsterdam. He doesn’t spend a lot of time with Geertrui, and he doesn’t have much personality, so I got bored with him quickly. I also wish that his part of the book had more resolution. Ambiguous endings usually don’t bother me, but after slogging through that many pages, I wanted more of a conclusion.
One thing that I do love about the entire book is how sex and sexuality are handled. Sex isn’t just something that happens. The characters actually think about it and make decisions about it. Geertrui considers birth control and weighs the pros and cons of having an affair with a married soldier before she does it. Jacob’s trip to Amsterdam gives him a chance to think about his own sexuality and admit that he may be bisexual.
This isn’t my favorite Printz Award winner. The writing is a bit preachy at times, and I think I would have liked the book a lot better if we got more Geertrui and less Jacob. Actually, a whole book about Geertrui would be fabulous. She’s an interesting character.