Book Review: The Room on Rue Amelie by Kristin Harmel

Reading format: Hardback

Content warnings: death, imprisonment, sex (non-graphic)

Rating: 3.5/5

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Ruby Benoit has moved to Paris with her French husband, Marcel, and they spend their first few months in newlywed bliss soaking up the city. But war is looming and their marriage begins to fracture as the Germans draw closer. It’s not long before her husband begins disappearing for days at a time. So Ruby finds herself turning to her 11-year-old neighbor, Charlotte Dacher, for friendship. But as the Nazis impose restrictions on the Jews, Charlotte begins to fear for her family.

Across the channel in England, Thomas Clarke has joined the Royal Air Force. After numerous successful missions in the sky, Thomas abruptly finds himself on French soil. Following hearsay about a route de la Resistance, he makes his way to Paris and knocks on Ruby’s door. The Room on Rue Amélie follows Ruby, Thomas, and Charlotte as they find strength in each other to make it through the war.

I’ll admit that this isn’t a book I’d usually pick up for myself. More often than not, when it comes to WWII reading I prefer to read memoirs by those who survived it. That said, I did enjoy The Room on Rue Amélie. This historical fiction is an emotionally lighter read than the memoirs, if you could call a war time book “lighter.”

Because Harmel’s writing style is more prosaic than lyrical, I think that makes it easier to read at a faster clip (for me, anyway). There aren’t grand descriptions of the settings, but she offers just enough detail that I felt like I could picture everything pretty well in my mind. I do feel that the characters lacked some emotional depth. While reading this book I felt like I was peering in at an artsy movie and watching clips of someone’s life rather than getting to know the characters’ deeper fears or motivation. I also felt like Harmel made Charlotte a little too wise for her age. Then again, you could argue that that’s what war can do to some people.

Regardless, this book still evoked emotion from me. I found myself frustrated with Ruby’s husband and his antiquated notions of a woman’s intelligence concerning politics. I was equally frustrated that Ruby kept going back to him, though perhaps that’s a sign of the times. (Plus, of course, if you love someone you’ll probably keep trying to make it work.) I also unexpectedly found myself very emotional at the end of this book. And this is coming from someone who doesn’t cry at very many films, shows, or books!