Score: 93/100 (9.3 out of 10)
An Enemy Like Me by Teri Brown joins Imelda's Secret & Long Way Home from Crete as one of our favorite World War II novels ever!
An Enemy Like Me follows a compelling couple during the early 20th century into the 1940s, right on through the war years. Jacob and Bonnie are an odd couple. Bonnie is a studious, spoiled, white-collar girl. By comparison, Jacob is a raggedy, unkept (yet handsome) delivery boy who amazes Bonnie with his Puritan work ethic and loving/caring nature.
Jacob is far and away the most interesting character in the book, especially given his background. Jacob is a first-generation American, but he is of German ancestry. This is significant because, as we all know, one of America's principal enemies in both world wars were the Germans. This conflict between Jacob's American and German identities is at the heart and center of the novel, giving it its title.
It's rather powerful and beautiful. There are certain scenes in this book that glow with humanity, bridging the gaps and blurring the lines between enemies and allies, friends and foes. Perhaps our favorite scene in the entire book is when Jacob is able to stand near his ancestral home in Germany, encountering a German boy who understands him. Together they share chocolate. This is especially powerful because it shows that something as simple as chocolate (along with language and love of parents/family) are shared across cultures and nationalities.
Something quite special about this book is that it doesn't really focus on the violence and trauma of war itself. Yes, there is death. Yes, there is fighting. However, the narration doesn't linger on combat. Instead, it focuses on the human element and what's happening in the hearts and minds of individuals at war or back at home.
We were stunned by how methodical and patient the first half of this book was. It was so delicate and unassuming. We weren't even sure we were reading a war novel! It read a lot more like a historical fiction or period piece novel.
Because it's a history-based novel, a lot of what happens is predicted. You already know the attack on Pearl Harbor will happen. You already know that the atomic bombs will fall. You already know that the Allies will win the war on both fronts in 1945. However, the book surprised us in just how some of these things are presented.
For example, the attack on Pearl Harbor occurs during a time in the novel when Jacob, Bonnie, and William (their son) seemed to be living their best lives. You don't expect something dramatic to happen at all. In fact, you kinda expect they'll ride off into the sunset.
Next, there's a huge tug-o-war for Jacob's heart between his love to his country, his desire to be accepted as American, and his love of his family. There are times when we 100% believed that there was no way he was going to go to war. On one hand, Jacob is a patriot who also wants to prove his American identity and patriotism(to those who doubt it), and on the other hand he believes that war may result in the end of his life or him returning “changed.” This is particularly interesting because there was a concept of PTSD that existed at that time, it just wasn't as well understood or acknowledged.
What's also interesting about this book is the amount of tribalism that exists and is on full display. Many Americans distrusted Germans (and Japanese) and treated them differently. Many were treated like spies or “sympathizers.” On the other hand, it is clear that there is an underground movement of Nazi/German sympathizers that is trying to recruit people to their cause.
We were also impressed by the author's use of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” as a leitmotif that grows in importance and relevancy.
Another impressive moment was when William, the young son of Jacob and Bonnie, tries to find things/words that start with W instead of “William” and “War.” William's experiences actually form a kind of frame around the main story.
This book probably features some of the most epic and emotional moments we've ever read including perhaps the most dramatic and emotional announcement of Japan's surrender that we've ever read on paper.
If you love historical fiction, check this out on Amazon!