All her life, Hazel Renner’s mother expounds on Hazel’s intellect and gifts. She claims Hazel is destined for greatness. The Renners are German immigrants living well for nearly two decades in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When an obscure Archduke is assassinated in Serbia, people who have grown to think of themselves as American are taunted with hyphenated geographical alliances. The Renners have suddenly become German-Americans and are now referred to as foreigners.
Set against the backdrop of a shifting American landscape with a world war engulfing Europe, Under the Same Blue Sky by Pamela Schoenewaldt looks at what it means to be American and what it means to be different. As the war in Europe grows, the Renners are torn in their interests as to what is happening abroad. Hazel’s father and uncle devour news from Germany where their younger brother and cousins are fighting and dying for Germany.
Hazel Renner listens to stories from all sides and wonders how her neighbors can condemn one group of people while holding another in favor. She wants to believe peaceful thoughts can bring about peace. Hazel has a capacity to care and a seeming gift to heal. Feeling medical school is unattainable for her working class family, Hazel chooses to become a teacher. She enjoys helping others and seeing the light in her students’ eyes when they understand something new. Yet Hazel is also restless and does not remain in one teaching position too long. With a family secret pushing her, Hazel begins her search for the place where she truly belongs.
Under the Same Blue Sky is beautifully written. Schoenewaldt weaves the history of World War I into the story with such expertise that the reader might not realize the story is given amidst a stark history lesson. As much as I liked Schoenewaldt’s writing and the way she showed the war and the effects of war even from a distance, I found it difficult to engage with the personal story of Hazel Renner. I found it easier to engage with the wide range of minor character around Hazel and wanted to know their stories. Although Under the Same Blue Sky is told from Hazel’s perspective, I don’t feel I ever got close enough to Hazel to know her. Just as the war was shown at a distance, so too was Hazel.
Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by HarperCollins Publishers. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.