cover image Louisa June and the Nazis in the Waves

Louisa June and the Nazis in the Waves

L.M. Elliott. HarperCollins/Tegen, $16.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06305-656-5

An infrequently explored aspect of WWII history—German submarines torpedoing U.S. cargo ships along America’s East Coast—underpins Elliott’s (Walls) well-crafted novel narrated by 13-year-old Louisa June, youngest of five in a loving, cued-white family in coastal Tidewater Virginia. The story begins in March 1942, soon after America’s entry into WWII, as the Chesapeake Bay and waters off Tidewater become the submarines’ “favorite hunting grounds” (though local civilians are unaware). Louisa’s three oldest siblings depart to help the war effort, leaving her to monitor Mama’s “melancholy,” a frequently contained depression. When Louisa’s beloved college-bound brother is killed by a German submarine’s fire on the family’s tugboat, and her father is injured, then overtaken by guilt and grief, her mother falls into a deep depression, laced with anger and blame. Louisa, also bereft, struggles to keep the household afloat and care for them. Welcome help comes from elderly, worldly, and spirited cousin Belle, who offers no-nonsense emotional support, plus food, books, and kittens. Louisa’s growing understanding of the devastation that the German submarines are causing propels her to find a way to join the war effort. Evocative descriptions of the region’s natural life—“egrets and blue herons wading through the feathery inlets”—ground this realistic depiction of one family’s efforts to withstand depression and personal tragedy during wartime. Ages 8–12. (Mar.)