cover image The Room on Rue Amélie

The Room on Rue Amélie

Kristin Harmel. Gallery, $26 (368p) ISBN 978-1-5011-7140-6

Harmel (The Sweetness of Forgetting) injects new life into a well-worn story in this hopeful three-voiced tale about the struggle to find normalcy amid the horrors of WWII. On a damp, blustery afternoon in 1930s New York, Ruby Henderson meets a handsome Frenchman in a cafe. Swept off her feet and into a whirlwind marriage (and relocation to Paris), Ruby quickly learns that her storybook romance may be spoiled by external forces as Europe topples into war. Ruby’s story’s emotional core is her struggle to establish her own identity and help others who are less fortunate, despite the growing dangers to herself. Harmel treats this subject with great care; although Ruby’s story is set in the past, the values by which she lives feel current. Unfortunately, the second narrator, Ruby’s young Jewish neighbor Charlotte Dacher, receives wobbly treatment, with a narrative voice that never quite lands. The third major point of view comes from tender-hearted, attractive RAF pilot Thomas Clarke, who helps Ruby’s story progress but is insufficiently fleshed out on his own. Harmel’s emotionally fraught story hammers home the message that each person has a unique opportunity to stand against injustice. This is a celebration of those, like Ruby, who found the courage to face life head-on. Agent: Holly Root, Root Literary. (Mar.)