Postcards from No Man's Land, by Aidan Chambers.
Seventeen-year-old Jacob Todd is about to discover himself. Jacob's
plan is to go to Amsterdam to honor his grandfather who died during
World War II. He expects to go, set flowers on his grandfather's
tombstone, and explore the city. But nothing goes as planned. Jacob
isn't prepared for love or to face questions about his sexuality.
Most of all, he isn't prepared to hear what Geertrui, the woman who
nursed his grandfather during the war, has to say about their
relationship. Geertrui was always known as Jacob's grandfather's kind
and generous nurse. But it seems that in the midst of terrible danger,
Geertrui and Jacob's grandfather's time together blossomed into
something more than a girl caring for a wounded soldier. And like Jacob,
Geertrui was not prepared. Geertrui and Jacob live worlds apart, but
their voices blend together to tell one story, a story that
transcends time and place and war. By turns moving, vulnerable, and
thrilling, this extraordinary novel takes the reader on a memorable
voyage of discovery. (Synopsis from Amazon.com)
I absolutely adored this book, and I cannot say enough good things about it. I had high hopes for it, just from the description on the back of the book, but when I started it I was a little nonplussed and immediately thought I was going to hate it, so much so that I very seriously considered just returning it to the library and finding a different book for the Netherlands instead. What I disliked was the fact that in each of the first two chapters the reader was dropped into the middle of the action with no explanation, and very jarringly at that. It was like opening a book in the middle and starting reading there -- that's how confusing and in need of explanation it felt. And then there was what I first thought was either a really bad editing job or a atrocious translation job. Amazingly, however, by the time I started the third chapter I was hooked. I eventually realized that what I took for poor editing or translation was the very intentional device of the author writing as an older Dutch woman who had not used English in a very long time, but who was writing out her memories for the eyes of her young American grandson. All of the characters were spot on, and I came to love them all. I loved falling in love with Amsterdam right along with present-day Jacob, and I was absolutely fascinated by boy-girl Ton. I can truly say that I did not want this story to end. I wanted to keep reading, to watch Jacob's relationship with Hille grow, and to be a fly on the wall to Jacob's very different relationship with Ton. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, though I warn the reader that you will need to barrel through the first two slightly confusing chapters before you get your bearings. It's worth the effort! 5 out of 5.