Things We Didn't Say by Amy Lynn Green: A book review

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Find it on: Goodreads | Kindle | Paperback | Audiobook

Age Appropriate For: 16 and up for innuendo and hard situations

Best for Ages: 18 and up

Description:  Headstrong Johanna Berglund, a linguistics student at the University of Minnesota, has very definite plans for her future . . . plans that do not include returning to her hometown and the secrets and heartaches she left behind there. But the US Army wants her to work as a translator at a nearby camp for German POWs.

Johanna arrives to find the once-sleepy town exploding with hostility. Most patriotic citizens want nothing to do with German soldiers laboring in their fields, and they're not afraid to criticize those who work at the camp as well. When Johanna describes the trouble to her friend Peter Ito, a language instructor at a school for military intelligence officers, he encourages her to give the town that rejected her a second chance.

As Johanna interacts with the men of the camp and censors their letters home, she begins to see the prisoners in a more sympathetic light. But advocating for better treatment makes her enemies in the community, especially when charismatic German spokesman Stefan Werner begins to show interest in Johanna and her work. The longer Johanna wages her home-front battle, the more the lines between compassion and treason become blurred - and it's no longer clear whom she can trust.

Well, this will be the third time I’ve started writing up a full review for this book. I’m hoping the third time is the charm against losing everything I’ve written. This book… It’s just amazing. There is a reason it was my favorite fiction book of 2021 (and I’ve already reread it).


The first thing that sets this book apart is it’s told entirely through letters, telegrams, notes, and newspaper articles. This style is called epistolary and I’ve always loved it. I have to say this is the best epistolary novel that I’ve ever read.


I listened to the audiobook and the narrator did an amazing job. Her voice was perfect for the characters and she did a great job of pronouncing all the German and other languages. She brought the characters to life and really increased my enjoyment of the book.


Other than being epistolary, there are a couple of things that set this book apart from others. First, Green pulls in some little-known history. She sets this on the backdrop of a POW camp in the US and the woman who is hired as the camp translator. She also touches on how German and Japanese Americans were viewed and treated. I thought she did a brilliant job with all of these issues in presenting them well historically.


Now, let’s talk about the characters. Johanna Berglund was someone I felt I could relate to on a deep level. We weren’t exactly alike, but we had so many similarities. She struggles with being in a position and place she didn’t want to be. She doesn’t have the best attitude all the time. Yet, she was so strong, flawed, and relatable. You will either love her or be annoyed by her. What you think of her will determined a lot of your enjoyment of the book. She reminded me of Joe from Little Women.


The other characters held so much debt I loved so many of them Peter was my favorite besides Johanna. But all the characters in this series felt so vivid and real. It made me want to jump into the book and get to know each and every one of them.


One of the most impactful aspects of this book was how it addressed racial tensions. I loved how it showed someone who was willing to cross racial lines, yet delved into the consequences that might come from such actions during World War II. It wasn’t an overpowering message in the story, but I felt like I got so much out of it. It helped me understand better some of the challenges families who’ve adopted (or couples who have married) from different racial backgrounds, might face.


For those who are tired of all the kissy romantic books, this is right up your alley. The romance is very mild and not the point of the story AT ALL. There are a few times in the book that inappropriate relationships are insinuated, but all the main characters have done nothing wrong. There were a few harder topics and situations talked about, so younger readers should be aware.


I highly recommend this book to those who love epistolary novels, World War 2 fiction, and stories that are both uplifting and delve deep into their subjects.

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