The FitzOsbornes at War, the Montmaray Journals, Book III by Michelle Cooper. Knopf Books for Young Readers. 2012. Sequel to Sequel to A Brief History of Montmaray and The FitzOsbornes in Exile. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.
The Plot: Life in Great Britain during World War II, as told by Sophie FitzOsborne. The FitzOsborne story began in the mid 1930s in A Brief History of Montmaray, centering on life on their small, island kingdom and how and why the Germans invaded and took over Montmaray. The family fled their home, and The FitzOsbornes in Exile was about their adjustment to life in England as well as what was happening in the years leading up to World War II.
The war touches Sophie, her siblings and cousins in many ways. Her brother Toby and family friend/cousin, Simon, are in uniform, as are many of their friends. Sophie and her cousin, Veronica, both find civilian ways to help the war effort. Family issues don’t stop just because a country is at war: younger sister Henrietta rebels against tutors and boarding schools, their aunt is concerned with money and status and her nieces’ possible marriages, and the question of the recovery of Montmaray looms over everything.
The Good: I have adored this series from the first page, when we met Sophie as she wrote in a castle on an island, surrounded by family and nothing else. A princess with no money or resources and a mad uncle.
The FitzOsbornes at War is both what I wanted and what I needed from this series’ conclusion, but also not what I expected. It tells the story of what it was like, being a young woman during the war: the fears, the desire to do something, the dangers, the rationing, the bombings, the worries over loved ones. Going in, I knew one thing for certain: people would be hurt. People would die. It would be dishonest for anything other to happen in a book about a war, a book where the main characters are young adults in their late teens and early twenties who are in the armed forces or in places being bombed nightly. Cooper is not dishonest. She does not hold back.
Sophie, as ever, is an engaging storyteller. This is her journal, and it jumps ahead, sometimes, but it’s always smoothly written. I adored not just the details of daily living, and a civilian’s view of historical events, but also the inclusion of real people such as Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy. Sophie is energetic, she is enthusiastic, she is wonderful. She goes through a lot; she suffers great loss; but she remains Sophie. The perspective is of someone who is trying, trying, trying so hard despite it all to be young, and to enjoy dances, and to fall in love.
Nope, I’m not going to give much more in terms of spoilers than that. Well, yes, the general history of World War II is hardly a spoiler, but the day to day things?The details? And how it all impacts Sophie and her family? That’s for a reader to discover, and to cry over. And, sometimes, even, to be happy about. As with the two previous books, when it comes to the real history and historical figures, it’s a mix of things a reader will recognize and things that will be new (did that really happen?).
The only thing I was disappointed about? I wish there had been more about Montmaray; there is some, don’t get me wrong, and I like what happens with that storyline and the resolution, but part of what drew me into the storyline was Montmaray so I wanted more. That said, I’ll be clear: I love this look at World War II.
As for who was hurt, who died, who lost, who loved? Oh. My. Goodness. I was shocked and I cried. And one of the resolutions was so perfect and yet so unexpected that all I could think was, well played, you. Perfect. This is the end of the trilogy, yes — but am I the only one who wants more? Perhaps what is happening to the contemporary FitzOsbornes, the descendants of the ones who survived the war? (See how I did that, not giving anything away?)
Because this series, read in its entirety, is a wonderful whole story of Sophie’s life as a teenager and young woman. Because of the look it takes at the 1930s and 1940s. Because it’s not what I expected and it took wonderful risks that paid off. This is a Favorite Book Read in 2012.
One last point: in part because of how Sophie and her siblings and cousins and friends age, this book easily crosses over, with appeal for both adults and teens. It also would make a terrific miniseries.