9 Books To Read If You Loved 'All The Light We Cannot See'
Currently sitting pretty on the bestseller list, Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See flips quickly between two characters and two perspectives — that of the young and blind Marie-Laure and the not-as-young and not blind Werner — as their paths cross in tiny Saint-Malo, France, rapidly pulling his readers into a fully imagined world set against shockingly real events. It’s the end of World War II when we first meet the pair (who have, quite notably, not yet met each other), but France is still being relentlessly hit by enemy fire, even Saint-Malo, a charming resort town perched on the edge of the Brittany coast, isn’t free of the attack.
Marie-Laure is one of the few remaining inhabitants of the city, while Werner is there to protect it as part of Germany’s army. Doerr’s book zips back and forth between time and place, introducing us both Marie-Laure and Werner’s own childhoods — both kids, it seemed, were obsessed with different things with a similar passion: Marie-Laure is a big believer in a mythological gemstone (perhaps with good reason…) and Werner loves radios. Those obsessions ultimately bring the pair together, even as the world around them falls spectacularly apart. Doerr’s short chapters and fast narrative keep the book moving right along, enthralling his readers from the start. It is nearly impossible to put down.
If you’ve already read Doerr’s latest and are looking for more books like it, here are some fresh picks you will adore.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Months after first reading it, Atkinson's time-traveling (time-controlling? time-switching?) novel still owns my heart. Atkinson's book cover major chunks of time, but its back half is mostly concerned with World War II, including various ways it could play out, depending on the actions of our fearless narrator Ursula. By combining the magical and the mundane, Life After Life makes history feel rich and compelling, and oddly, deeply personal.
A God In Ruins by Kate Atkinson
Fans of Life After Life have a new treat to devour come May 5, when this extremely exciting new title hits shelves: a companion piece to Atkinson's novel that focuses on Ursula's beloved younger brother Teddy. A RAF pilot during the war, this new look at a different side of the Todd drama explores what happens to Teddy after that book ends, and what WWII feels like to someone who survived — and who perhaps shouldn't have.
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
So much of All The Light We Cannot See is caught up in exploring the past — and telling stories about it — to understand the present and the future. Kline's newest book (which, by my estimation, has already ensnared 80 percent of currently operating book clubs) addresses those same ideals, using the history of one character (Vivian Daly, one of the children sent on the eponymous orphan train as a young child) to clarify the future of another (Molly Ayer, herself from a broken family). Like All The Light We Cannot See, it's a zippy, enthralling read that brings history vividly to life.
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
There are plenty of mysteries at the heart of All The Light We Cannot See, but they are nothing compared to the ones that linger around the edges of Stedman's book. Set just after World War I, the novel is similarly haunted by battle and the way it shapes people who endure it. A compelling, quick read with secrets to spare.
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
Based on the unbelievable true story of Louis Zamperini — Olympic star, prisoner of war, American hero — Hillenbrand's fact-based book presents a staggering amount of information, kitted out with heartbreaking details. Zamperini's determination to live through World War II and his subsequent capture is life-affirming and extraordinary.
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
Both Marie-Laure and Werner on forced into adulthood far too soon — the demands of war would do that to any child, but their circumstances are particularly extreme — and they grapple with marrying childhood with adolescence, the past with the future, war with peace. Krueger's novel does the same thing, told with the kind of honesty and reflection that could only come from a person many years removed from his story — in this case, it's Frank Drum, the book's protagonist, who spends the narrative remembering the summer he became, quite forcefully, a man.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
One of the genre's most heartwrenching — not just breaking, actually wrenching — tales about young kids in the middle of World War II, Zusak's book follows young orphan Liesel as she attempts to rise above the horrors of Nazi Germany, aided by her loving foster parents, a new friend, and a huge secret.
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
A spy book for kids with a major jones for history, Wein's 2012 novel centers on a captured young spy (code name: Verity) who is forced to detail the British war effort to the Nazi soldiers who imprison her. As Verity crumbles under her situation, her best friend and fellow spy, pilot Maddie, attempts to get her back.
Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
Half-set in France during World War II, de Rosnay's novel is, like All The Light We Cannot See, deeply rooted in the familial bonds that hold people together during even the worst of times. The novel flips between the present and past, pulling together a tragic and illuminating story that crosses whole generations.
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