Book Reviews

The Girl You Left Behind by the amazing Jojo Moyes


What happened to the girl you left behind?

In 1916 French artist Edouard Lefevre leaves his wife Sophie to fight at the Front.  When her town falls into German hands, his portrait of Sophie stirs the heart of the local Kommandant and causes her to risk everything – her family, reputation and life – in the hope of seeing her true love one last time.

Nearly a century later and Sophie’s portrait is given to Liv by her young husband shortly before his sudden death.  Its beauty speaks of their short life together, but when the painting’s dark and passion-torn history is revealed, Liv discovers that the first spark of love she has felt since she lost him is threatened…

In The Girl You Left Behind two young women, separated by a century, are united in their determination to fight for the thing they love most – whatever the cost. (Goodreads)

This book was just released in the United States on August 20th, 2013 but I couldn’t wait for it. Fortunately my trip to the UK this summer allowed me to find it in most books stores but I didn’t take the chance of it not being available. I pathetically relunctantly admit that I ordered it through Amazon UK before our departure for our vacation in late July. I love Jojo Moyes that much! She is one of my favorite authors after reading Me Before You and The Last Letter From Your Lover. Yes, I know I could’ve waited to download an ecopy to my tablet two days ago, but I have to actually hold her books, turn the pages, make notes in them and keep them for years to revisit. And I love the UK cover versions.

Where do I even begin? I don’t want to compare any of her books to one another as some readers do because they are all very different and like children they each bring something special to the reader. I love stand alones; appreciate them in the current explosion of series books. But first and foremost, Jojo Moyes. I still get amazed that writers come up with stories like this. It’s probably why I have a deep obsession appreciation for literature and music. The fact that someone can create something from nothing that leaves you exhausted from emotion yet refreshed with originality is mind boggling to me. I just don’t get how they do that! Sentences like, “She blushes, thinking of her night with Paul McCafferty. She has found herself returning to it relentlessly over the days since, worrying at the night’s events, like a tongue at a loose tooth…she is cold with embarrassment, yet burns gently.”  Gah! I LOVE her writing. If this post is to remain interesting without losing the reader, I will have to refrain from posting all of her literary gems.

This historical fiction novel is written in two parts. Part One introduces the French village of St. Péronne in October of 1916 during WWI. Sophie  Lefèvre and sister Hélène are left alone with their younger brother Aurélien and Hélène’s children while their husbands are off fighting in the Front. Their hotel, Le Coq Rouge, is now the dining location for the new Kommandant and his soldiers. I felt like I was holding my breath and on the edge of my seat for much of Part One. The descriptions of war torn France, violence to innocents, women left home to serve the enemy while protecting their children and human beings stripped of every comfort and privilege was horrific. Just as you would imagine and worse.

Part Two introduces widow Liv Halston in London during 2006. She is only a widow for four years but remains at a standstill in her personal life. She befriends Mo, who actually saves her from a terrible date and their polar opposite personalities is a positive addition to this heartbreaking story. The building relationship with Paul is also an unexpected joy to read. Their banter and chemistry is humorous, sincere and steamy. There are flashbacks of Sophie’s struggle alongside Liv’s current story as the two stories become intertwined. It’s beautifully executed and very clever in this story within a story.

Even though a century has passed between them, Sophie and Liv’s stories are mirrored. There is no comparison of what Sophie goes through in WWI but they both are resilient, strong, resourceful, empathetic, courageous, extremely loving and both hold onto their values regardless of the risk of being cast out from society.

“…and tried to remind myself that there was a purpose to all this: that the very point of faith was that it must be tested.” ~Sophie

“Sometimes life is a series of obstacles, a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes, she realizes suddenly, it is simply a matter of blind faith.”  ~Liv

I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough as the stories unfold but made myself slow down to enjoy the superb writing. The Girl You Left Behind has it all: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Romance, Friendship, Family Bonds, Humor (yes, some humor) and Drama. Book clubs will devour this novel (any book by Jojo Moyes, really). Then the story ends and if you are like me, you sit staring blankly around the room trying to absorb everything just thrown at you. Wondering how you could ever do a proper review of this amazing book. You will simply tell friends “just read it” but that really wouldn’t work here. Maybe I will do that one day on a post. Luckily, she adds a little teaser of her Novella, Honeymoon in Paris, to break the spell. It’s only available in ebook which I can’t wait to get to, so ciao for now.

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