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They Went Left
Cover of They Went Left
They Went Left
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The New York Times bestselling, critically acclaimed, tour de force historical mystery from Monica Hesse, the award-winning author of Girl in the Blue Coat.


Germany, 1945. The soldiers who liberated the Gross-Rosen concentration camp said the war was over, but nothing feels over to eighteen-year-old Zofia Lederman. Her body has barely begun to heal; her mind feels broken. And her life is completely shattered: Three years ago, she and her younger brother, Abek, were the only members of their family to be sent to the right, away from the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Everyone else—her parents, her grandmother, radiant Aunt Maja—they went left.


Zofia's last words to her brother were a promise: Abek to Zofia, A to Z. When I find you again, we will fill our alphabet. Now her journey to fulfill that vow takes her through Poland and Germany, and into a displaced persons camp where everyone she meets is trying to piece together a future from a painful past: Miriam, desperately searching for the twin she was separated from after they survived medical experimentation. Breine, a former heiress, who now longs only for a simple wedding with her new fiancé. And Josef, who guards his past behind a wall of secrets, and is beautiful and strange and magnetic all at once.
But the deeper Zofia digs, the more impossible her search seems. How can she find one boy in a sea of the missing? In the rubble of a broken continent, Zofia must delve into a mystery whose answers could break her—or help her rebuild her world.

The New York Times bestselling, critically acclaimed, tour de force historical mystery from Monica Hesse, the award-winning author of Girl in the Blue Coat.


Germany, 1945. The soldiers who liberated the Gross-Rosen concentration camp said the war was over, but nothing feels over to eighteen-year-old Zofia Lederman. Her body has barely begun to heal; her mind feels broken. And her life is completely shattered: Three years ago, she and her younger brother, Abek, were the only members of their family to be sent to the right, away from the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Everyone else—her parents, her grandmother, radiant Aunt Maja—they went left.


Zofia's last words to her brother were a promise: Abek to Zofia, A to Z. When I find you again, we will fill our alphabet. Now her journey to fulfill that vow takes her through Poland and Germany, and into a displaced persons camp where everyone she meets is trying to piece together a future from a painful past: Miriam, desperately searching for the twin she was separated from after they survived medical experimentation. Breine, a former heiress, who now longs only for a simple wedding with her new fiancé. And Josef, who guards his past behind a wall of secrets, and is beautiful and strange and magnetic all at once.
But the deeper Zofia digs, the more impossible her search seems. How can she find one boy in a sea of the missing? In the rubble of a broken continent, Zofia must delve into a mystery whose answers could break her—or help her rebuild her world.

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About the Author-
  • Monica Hesse is the bestselling author of Girl in the Blue Coat, American Fire, and The War Outside, as well as a columnist at The Washington Post. She lives outside Washington, D.C. with her husband and their dog.
Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    February 1, 2020
    Well-researched historical fiction about what happened after the Holocaust ended. So many books tackle experiences in the camps or the resistance movements, but what happened to the people liberated at the end of the war? Jewish Zofia, liberated from Gross-Rosen and then hospitalized, has trouble remembering things, like the last time she saw her younger brother, Abek, but she knows he is all she has left and that she needs to find him. Her journey takes her from Poland to Foehrenwald, a refugee camp in Germany. In Foehrenwald, Zofia begins to rediscover that life holds joy and opportunity. There, she connects with other people who have lost everything and yet have found purpose, including Zionists preparing for kibbutz life. She also meets Josef, to whom she is immediately attracted, and continues to follow leads to find Abek even as her patchy memory circles uncertainly around memories that hide something. Despite the well-researched setting and some genuinely touching emotional beats, the novel never really gels due to absences: intriguing side plots trail off, Zofia has little identity beyond her search for Abek, and the romantic subplot is needlessly convoluted. Judaism plays a minimal role in the Jewish characters' lives. Notable for exploring an oft-forgotten moment but ultimately succeeds mostly as a history lesson. (note on history and research) (Historical fiction. 13-18)

    COPYRIGHT(2020) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from February 17, 2020
    “Lines. I am good at lines,” 18-year-old Zofia Lederman, who is Jewish, begins. She’s had to be: the Nazis’ brutal extermination of Europe’s Jews was perversely orderly and filled with rules. But Zofia is good at other things, too. Surviving, for one: after the war ends in 1945, she’s alive, largely because her skill at sewing made her of use. Keeping a promise, for another: her younger brother Abek might still be alive (she knows that the rest of their family is dead), and she’s intent on finding him, even though trauma and hope have
    combined to muddle her memories. Her journey takes her back to her family’s home in Poland, then to Foehrenwald, a displaced persons camp in Germany, where she meets other survivors of the war—some Jewish, some not—including the mysterious and compelling Josef, whose anger and passion Zofia finds compelling. Hesse (The War Outside) has written several YA novels that touch on WWII traumas, and this one shows her gift at coming at an oft-told story from a new angle, as well as her compelling language, characterization, and ability to fill a story with realistic details and tension. Ages 14–up. Agent: Ginger Clark, Curtis Brown.

  • School Library Journal

    Starred review from March 1, 2020

    Gr 9 Up-A heartbreaking and heartwarming story of survival, loss, and renewal. The year is 1945, and Zofia finds herself in a hospital after being liberated from the Gross-Rosen concentration camp in Poland. Suffering from memory loss in a hospital with other survivors, Zofia relies on the kindness of Dima, a Russian soldier, to get home and find her little brother, Abek. However, the home Zofia returns to is not one she recognizes. She quickly discovers that she needs to continue her search for Abek elsewhere. Alone, Zofia travels across borders to locate her brother; she doesn't know what happened to him or where he ended up, but she will not give up hope that he is alive and looking for her. This book starts where many World War II fiction ends: liberation. Readers travel with Zofia as she struggles to piece her life back together and discover what a family looks like now. Hesse's meticulous research of this moment in history creates an overwhelming sense of time and place. She intertwines historical fact with masterful storytelling that allows readers to embrace the characters and relate to them without forgetting the heaviness of the time period. VERDICT Highly recommended as a first purchase for both public and school libraries. Sure to please a variety of readers; those interested in historical fiction, romance, and mystery will not be able to put this book down.-Maryjean Riou, Hunterdon County Library, Flemington, NJ

    Copyright 2020 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from January 1, 2020
    Grades 9-12 *Starred Review* Liberated from a German concentration camp, 18-year-old Zofia feels she is broken by the horrors of the war, that her mind has become soft, for she is easily confused and her memory is faulty. One thing she cannot forget, however, is her younger brother, Abek, from whom she was separated by the war. Now she's determined to find him, if he survived, so they can live their lives fully, A to Z. Her search takes her to Foehrenwald, a displaced persons camp in Germany. There she meets a young man named Josef, and the two fall in love. But what of Abek? Will some miracle reunite the siblings? And will Zofia find a happy ending with Josef, as in the stories she used to tell Abek? In her third novel set in the WWII period, Hesse again proves to be a master of verisimilitude, bringing the realities of existence in the immediate postwar period to visceral life through painstaking detail. Her beautifully realized, highly empathetic characters come to life, too, in the pages of this superbly crafted novel, the tone and sensibility of which perfectly match the material. Like real life, there is heartbreaking sadness here but also hope that life, finally, will be whole and fine, A to Z.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2020, American Library Association.)

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They Went Left
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