The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows was one of my absolute favorite World War II books of all time. It was emotional, suspenseful, and sweet. It showed the good in people during trying times in a slightly off-beat, hysterical way.
Juliet Ashton spent the war years writing for an English newspaper, a column meant to keep British spirits up as Germany fought to bring them down. Afterwards, she gets a letter from Dawsey Adams, a man from Guernsey—a Channel Island located just off the coast of France but with British allegiance—who had found one of her used, donated book and was writing to thank her for it. Thus sparks a relationship. Juliet find out that Dawsey is a member of the unique Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a book club that started as a front to share a few creature comforts without the occupying Germans knowing and continued with a genuine love of reading and community.
Her interest sparked, Juliet makes her way to Guernsey in order to explore this interesting island and possibly write a book about it and the people who lived there during the war. What she finds is friendship and a community that quickly feels like home and family.
This book was light-hearted and fun, a real treat with a nice romance thread to boot.
Juliet is the protagonist of the story, a writer who wants to try her hand at a book. She stumbles across Guernsey, or rather she stumbles across Dawsey and he mentions in passing about the literary and potato peel pie society. Like any good writer, her curiosity is peaked.
Dawsey Adams is Juliet’s first friend, possibly more, in Guernsey. He’s one of those quiet, able men who’s always popping up, doing good, and helping out in other stories from the people of Guernsey. He introduces her (through letter) to others from the island and she starts to piece together a history of Guernsey during German occupation.
Elizabeth McKenna is another person from Guernsey, but Juliet only hears about her second-hand. She wasn’t in Guernsey when Juliet finally visited. However, Elizabeth is the glue that held the literary society together by being quick-witted, kind, and loyal.
The book is written in letters. There’s nothing but letters or journal entries. It starts with a letter from Dawsey, and through letters from him and his friends, the plot flashes back and forth between Guernsey during German occupation and Juliet’s present day (within a year or two of the war ending). These letters mention people and events that intrigue Juliet, creating a treasure hunt of clues that adds up to a remarkable story. She goes to Guernsey and eventually digs out the story of the island in wartime, a remarkable tale that’s a little sad, a little beautiful, and very hopeful. Letters between Juliet and her best friends back at home, Sidney Stark and Sophie Strachan, keep the reader up to date on what’s happening in Juliet’s life and her developing relationships with some of the Guernsey people.
The writing was fantastic with a tale of war and redemption overlayed on a sweet romance. It talks about the joy of reading (hence the literary society):
“That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you to another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive – all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.”
“Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true.”
“We clung to books and to our friends; they reminded us that we had another part to us.”
“Think of it! We could have gone on longing for one another and pretending not to notice forever. This obsession with dignity can ruin your life if you let it.”
And throughout all is humor.
This book is light and fun, but there are some darker elements that make it real (after all, it is about World War II). The combination of both, that effervescent, bubbly warmth mixed with the cold, darkness of war, makes an unforgettable story that ends with hope and love.