Flame in the Night is a YA novel based on a real-life French community in the throes of Nazi occupation. It fictionalizes the community members who helped organize an elaborate (and illegal) network to hide WWII refugees (mostly Jewish children). This is Heather Munn’s third installment in her series about the village and people of Chambon-sur-Lignon. I’ve read the first two novels as well and really liked all of them, but this third book is especially haunting.
If you’ve ever prayed for peace and at the same time wondered how you would respond if your loved one or your community was under threat, these stories will reveal something to you. Not just about violence and war, but also about internal conflicts that arise in humans who face their own fear and yet continue to feel vulnerable. You’ll find characters whose motives run the gamut. Some want revenge. Some want to stop the evil, even if they can’t heal it. Some simply want to care for the ones they love. All throughout, many more quietly help in whatever way they can. They risk arrest and deportation. Some face their own death. They know the threats are real.
Author, Heather Munn, treats these courageous and hard-won stories with a kindness that allows her character’s to speak for themselves. She opens up space for conversation beyond the simple scripts and, in that way, sets this book apart among young adult fiction. She is especially good when witnessing to how young people hold onto meaningful choices in the midst of their pain, something all of us desperately need to believe is possible. For instance, take one of the story’s heroines, a young Jewish woman by the name of Elisa Schulmann. Munn writes, “She drew the sharp knife down the stone, praying again for mercy, for justice, for no more death.” Even as Elisa contemplates their untenable life in hiding, her brief prayer is wholehearted and complex.
Without being preachy or trite, this story invites the reader to take action and to do so in a way that is uncompromising. These characters believe that ordinary people, in all of their complicated mess, can stand with and shelter the vulnerable. That when there’s sin and darkness–and even a president who is deporting citizens of the world into places of danger and violence–we can all do something about it. (By the way, the actual French town depicted in the book continues to take in displaced families today. The Smithsonian Magazine recently did a wonderful job reporting on it.) Flame in the Night is a bright witness to grace in these dark moments of our history.