Author: Pamela Schoenewaldt
Genre: historical fiction, general fiction
Published: May 5th 2015
Source: TLC Book Tours for review
From the USA Today bestselling author of When We Were Strangers and Swimming in the Moon comes a lush, exquisitely drawn novel set against the turmoil of the Great War, as a young German-American woman explores the secrets of her past.
A shopkeeper's daughter, Hazel Renner lives in the shadows of the Pittsburgh steel mills. She dreams of adventure, even as her immigrant parents push her toward a staid career. But in 1914, war seizes Europe and all their ambitions crumble. German-Americans are suddenly the enemy, "the Huns." Hazel herself is an outsider in her own home when she learns the truth of her birth.
Desperate for escape, Hazel takes a teaching job in a seemingly tranquil farming community. But the idyll is cracked when she acquires a mysterious healing power--a gift that becomes a curse as the locals' relentless demand for "miracles" leads to tragedy.
Hazel, determined to find answers, traces her own history back to a modern-day castle that could hold the truth about her past. There Hazel befriends the exiled, enigmatic German baron and forges a bond with the young gardener, Tom. But as America is shattered by war and Tom returns battered by shell-shock, Hazel's healing talents alone will not be enough to protect those close to her, or to safeguard her dreams of love and belonging. She must reach inside to discover that sometimes the truth is not so far away, that the simplest of things can lead to the extraordinary.
Filled with rich historical details and intriguing, fully realized characters, Under the Same Blue Sky is the captivating story of one woman's emergence into adulthood amid the tumult of war.
Thoughtful and contemplative are two apt descriptors for Pamela Schoenewaldt's newest historical fiction novel, Under the Same Blue Sky. This is largely the story of Hazel Renner, a first-generation American-born German, and takes place before, during, and after WWI. Hazel grows up with the worldwide tension and the tumult, felt all the way from Europe to her homes in Pittsburgh and elsewhere in the US.
Hazel and her family are "hyphenated Americans," meaning that they are immigrants or directly descended from someone who was. Like other minority and hyphenated groups such Irish-Americans, African-Americans, Native Americans, etc, whom have experienced bigotry and xenophobia in this country, the German émigrés in New York during this time were exposed to harsh prejudice and ill-conceived judgments. Suspicion against "Huns" and "Krauts" are leveled against Hazel and her family due to propaganda and news, and Schoenewaldt shows how that unrelenting rhetoric looks and feels from the other side. This a constant pressure exerts itself on various characters in several affecting and emotional ways.
Under the Same Blue Sky is a solid novel, where characterization is subtle but felt and plot is minimal. For the most part, it's a thoughtful and introspective look at WWI from an unexplored and unlikely point of view. When it concerns itself with those aspects of the plot and storytelling, this worked really well as a novel. With the introduction of Hazel's "gift", I felt the seams of the story start to fray. This is possibly due to how open-ended the author leaves the interpretation of that element. Is this a magical realism novel? Was it a placebo effect?
A strong introduction to this author, Under the Same Blue Sky was a satisfying historical read that left me curious about the author's other works. Hazel's story and perspective feel fresh and new; focusing on WWI rather than WWII was also a smart maneuver that served to keep this book and characters both original and memorable.