Friday, March 15, 2024

Book Review: The Underground Library by Jennifer Ryan

Pages: 368
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: March 12, 2024
Publisher: Ballantine
Source: Publisher for review
Other Books By Author: The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars 
Goodreads says, "When the Blitz imperils the heart of a London neighborhood, three young women must use their fighting spirit to save the community’s beloved library in this heartwarming novel from the author of The Chilbury Ladies' Choir.

When new deputy librarian, Juliet Lansdown, finds that Bethnal Green Library isn't the bustling hub she's expecting, she becomes determined to breathe life back into it. But can she show the men in charge that a woman is up to the task of running it, especially when a confrontation with her past threatens to derail her?

Katie Upwood is thrilled to be working at the library, although she's only there until she heads off to university in the fall. But after the death of her beau on the front line and amid tumultuous family strife, she finds herself harboring a life-changing secret with no one to turn to for help.

Sofie Baumann, a young Jewish refugee, came to London on a domestic service visa only to find herself working as a maid for a man who treats her abominably. She escapes to the library every chance she can, finding friendship in the literary community and aid in finding her sister, who is still trying to flee occupied Europe.

When a slew of bombs destroy the library, Juliet relocates the stacks to the local Underground station where the city's residents shelter nightly, determined to lend out stories that will keep spirits up. But tragedy after tragedy threatens to unmoor the women and sever the ties of their community. Will Juliet, Kate, and Sofie be able to overcome their own troubles to save the library? Or will the beating heart of their neighborhood be lost forever?"

Three women's lives intertwine at the Bethnal Green Library during World War III in London. First, there's Sophie Baumann, who left Berlin in 1939 and is now a housekeeper, but her boss makes her life extremely difficult. Julie is the librarian at Bethnal Green and works with the librarian assistant, Katie, to plan a book club, which Sofie does frequently. This is a great way to get their mind off the war as Juliet's husband is off fighting, but she gets word he deserted. Katie's is off fighting too, but she recently found out he is listed as missing in action. Katie has a few more secrets as well, but the book club is a bright ray of sunshine on a cloudy day. Things change drastically when the Bltiz offers and the library is bombed. The women have to move the library to the Bethnal Green underground where many are sheltering already. Books offer people a chance to escape and prove to be an important endeavor when keep everyone's spirits up. The Underground Library by Jennifer Ryan illustrates the power of books during dark times; fans of WWII literature will enjoy this one the most.
One of the most captivating aspects of historical fiction is its ability to offer various perspectives through its characters, and 
The Underground Library is no exception. The novel entwines the lives of three women during the London Blitz, each bringing something unique to the story while dealing with their own personal struggles. Juliet, for instance, finds solace at the library after her husband is branded a deserter and she loses contact with him. She finds structure and purpose at the library and working with Katie, the librarian assistant, she has found friendship, too. Meanwhile, Katie's boyfriend goes missing in action, adding to her already mounting stress. Sofie's story is equally significant, given that she is Jewish, so the consequences of the war often feel more serious for her. One thing is for sure, the power of books, friendship, and the resilience of women will bring these three characters together during a very difficult time in history.
I enjoy Ryan's historical novels and this one did not disappoint. It was an enjoyable WWII novel without being overly stressful and who doesn't love to read about libraries and librarians who go against the odds to bring joy and books to people who need them most. If you enjoy WWII novels but want something with a message of hope, look no further.



  1. I really enjoy WWII historical fiction, and while the London Blitz is a popular setting/time period, I love the focus on the library here!

    1. Me too! That was definitely my favorite part. I think you'd like this one, Angela!


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