The Lost Girls of Paris
by Pam Jenoff
It is 1946, and Grace Healey is passing through Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan on her way to work when she sees an abandoned suitcase sitting under a bench. In a moment of unrestrained curiosity, Grace opens the suitcase and finds the individual photographs of twelve young women. She takes them. Before long, Grace learns that the suitcase belonged to Eleanor Trigg, the woman in charge of a program that trained young women to be secret agents and deployed them out of London during World War II. The twelve women in the photos were sent to various parts of Occupied Europe to act as couriers and radio operators, but they subsequently disappeared, seemingly without a trace. Grace makes it her mission to find out what happened to the twelve women and why. The Lost Girls of Paris follows Grace, Eleanor, and Marie, one of the twelve women deployed to Occupied Europe, as they each navigate their own treacherous paths.
Normally, I find that a story written from more than one viewpoint is a bit fractured in terms of flow. In this case, I believe that it is necessary to have both Eleanor’s and Marie’s viewpoints, and this adds a level of complexity to the book. However, I think that Grace was an unnecessary character. As the author writes it, Grace is necessary to finish the story, but it seems to me that it would have been better to write the story completely from Eleanor’s and Marie’s perspectives. Grace adds nothing much to the story that the reader does not already know or will soon know, and I thought she distracted from Eleanor and Marie, the major players. In addition, the way in which Grace finds out about the twelve missing girls is a bit forced. Even if one thought a suitcase had been abandoned in a public place, it would be a bit unusual to open the suitcase – and take some of the items – rather than simply turning it in to the lost and found desk.
When it comes to describing violence and the realities of living in a country at war, there is a fine balance between providing too little detail and being sickeningly explicit. This book was a bit light on details in terms of the training that the female secret agents must undergo as well as the nature of their work once they are deployed. While I understand this may not be the focus of the story, the inclusion of such details would have helped make the story more realistic and would also have more strongly highlighted the dangers of working for the resistance in Occupied Europe during World War II.
Even though I preferred the book without Grace and wished for more detail in some instances, I enjoyed reading about Eleanor and Marie and was just as eager as Grace to learn the fate of those twelve girls. Jenoff’s writing flows well and is relatively simple, no flowery words or unnecessary embellishments. I also appreciated the fact that, although the characters and events in the book are fictitious, Jenoff’s story is inspired by the real-life Vera Atkins and her network of female agents during World War II.
I would recommend this book for more mature young readers with a note of caution for limited instances of slightly more mature material. Aside from three four-letter words at different points in the book, there is no profanity or other strong language. In addition to some romance in both Grace’s and Marie’s lives, there is a sex scene involving Grace that is strongly implied in the first chapter and referenced several times throughout the book. A few of the chapters contain brief descriptions of Grace’s reserved desires for the man with whom she was in a relationship. As far as World War II historical fiction books go, The Lost Girls of Paris would not be my first recommendation. However, if you are looking for a relatively easy read, content that is not too heavy, and some light romance, this book might just be for you.