When Sophie Lefevre’s artist husband, Edouard, goes off to fight for France during WWI she decides to leave Paris and return to her family’s hotel in the small town of St. Peronne in Northern France and assist her sister in running it. When the town falls to the Germans their occupation leads to increasing restrictions and depleted rations as well as suspicions and gossip amongst neighbors. When the German Kommandant becomes enraptured with one of Edouard’s paintings of Sophie called The Girl You Left Behind, and Sophie learns Edouard has been captured and is being imprisoned in one of their camps, she decides to risk everything – the love of her family, her good name in St. Peronne, her very integrity – for the chance to be with Edouard again.
Nearly a century later, Liv Halston is still struggling with her husband’s sudden death four years previously. His death has left her bereft and lonely, with a designer house she cannot afford and the painting of Sophie that her husband bought for her during their honeymoon. With her life now stagnant, The Girl You Left Behind makes Liv feel connected to the love she has lost. Then she meets Paul and Liv begins to think she can live again. That is until Paul reveals he is working for the Lefevre family who believes The Girl You Left Behind was stolen by the Kommandant during the war and that they deserve it back. As The Girl You Left Behind has become so much more than a painting to Liv she refuses to let this happen.
As the court case surrounding the ownership of the painting heats up, Liv continues to learn more about the fate of the enigmatic Sophie and, in turn, more about what she wants for her own life. But as the world begins to collapse around her, Liv will have to stay as strong as Sophie did against the often negative opinions of others in order to stay true to what she feels is right and to try and give Sophie the honor she deserves.
I absolutely loved The Girl You Left Behind! The first part of the book is exclusively Sophie’s story and it is intense. I had no idea that northern parts of France were occupied by the Germans during WWI or that such atrocities, many that were replicated not that far in the future during WWII, were happening during that time. Sophie is presented as such a strong, determined woman, ready to do anything and take any abuse just for the chance to see the love of her life again. While we don’t get to see too much of Edouard, their love story is one for the ages. I think what surprised me the most during this part of the book was the quick hatred of Sophie’s neighbors when they believed anyone could even possibly be collaborating with the enemy. The fact that someone could be doing nothing wrong and find themselves without any kindness from supposed friend or foe is just heartbreaking to me.
The second part of the book mainly deals with Liv’s struggles with some smatterings of Sophie’s story as more and more is learned about her fate. It was quite interesting to see Liv experience some of the same general issues – although admittedly on a much smaller scale – as Sophie and to see how she continued to change and she came closer and closer to the truth. Everyone seemed to turn on Liv when she decided to fight for the painting, assuming they knew her reasons for doing so, and Liv has to also decide how far she is willing to go for love. While the love between Liv and Paul wasn’t quite as earth shattering for me as Sophie and Edouard it was still quite touching.
There are just so many wonderful things going on in this book that it is hard for me to even classify it – it’s got WWI history, two romances, a courtroom drama and two incredibly compelling heroines that are hard to forget. Everyone should read this book, it was just that amazing.
Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Penguin Group. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.