They Went Left

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By Monica Hesse

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In the rubble of a broken continent, a girl must solve a mystery whose answers could rebuild her family—or break her completely, in this New York Times bestselling, critically acclaimed tour de force historical novel from Monica Hesse, author of Girl in the Blue Coat.
 
Germany, 1945. The soldiers who liberated the Gross-Rosen concentration camp say the war is over, but nothing feels over to eighteen-year-old Zofia Lederman. Her body has barely begun to heal, her mind feels broken. And her life is completely shattered: Three years ago, she and her younger brother, Abek, were the only members of their family to be sent to the right, away from the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Everyone else—her parents, her grandmother, radiant Aunt Maja—they went left.
 
Zofia's last words to her brother were a promise: Abek to Zofia, A to Z. When I find you again, we will fill our alphabet. Now her journey to fulfill that vow takes her through Poland and Germany, into a displaced persons camp where everyone she meets is trying to piece together a future from a painful past: Miriam, desperately searching for the twin she was separated from after they survived medical experimentation. Breine, a former heiress, who now longs only for a simple wedding with her new fiancé. And Josef, who guards his past behind a wall of secrets, and is beautiful and strange and magnetic all at once.

But the deeper Zofia digs, the more impossible her search seems. How can she find one boy in a sea of the missing?
 

  • Praise for They Went Left:
    A New York Times and IndieBound bestseller
    A Sydney Taylor Honor Book
    Edgar Award Nominee, Best Young Adult Mystery
    An NPR Best Book of the Year
    A New York Times Best Book of the Year
    Booklist Editor’s Choice

    "Hesse writes with tenderness and insight about the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive and the ways we cobble together family with whatever we have. When the plot twists come, they are gut punches--some devastating, others offering hope... Crucial."
    New York Times Book Review
  • "beautifully tragic...an incredibly impressive novel about a timeframe and group of people that history often forgets. Their stories will stay with me forever."
    --Hypable
  • * "A heartbreaking and heartwarming story of survival, loss, and renewal. Sure to please a variety of readers; those interested in historical fiction, romance, and mystery will not be able to put this book down."
    School Library Journal, starred review
  • * "Hesse again proves to be a master of verisimilitude, bringing the realities of existence in the immediate postwar period to visceral life through painstaking detail. Her beautifully realized, highly empathetic characters come to life, too, in the pages of this superbly crafted novel...like real life, there is heartbreaking sadness here but also hope that life, finally, will be whole and fine, A to Z."
    Booklist, starred review
  • * "Hesse's meticulous research is evident on every page but never distracts from her propulsive plot. Combining history, romance and mystery, They Went Left is a heartbreaking yet hopeful story of what it takes to survive after trauma."
    BookPage, starred review
  • * "Compelling."
    Publishers Weekly, starred review
  • * "Featuring factual locations and covering a period of time not often focused on, this is an excellent book to add to a Holocaust collection. ...This book would be valuable for all high schools and should be considered a must-purchase."

    School Library Connection, starred review
  • "A heartbreaking, gorgeously written story...The ending left me breathless and awed by its expression of enduring love."
    Jewell Parker Rhodes, New York Times bestselling author of Ghost Boys
  • "Zofia's harrowing journey to find Abek and the fellow survivors she meets along the way will stay with the reader--particularly the echoes of the present evoked in a narrative of the past."
    Refinery29
  • Select Praise for The War Outside:A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2018A 2019 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults PickA 2018 BCCB Bulletin Blue Ribbon TitleA 2019 Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People
    "Once again, Monica Hesse delivers an incredibly compelling and beautifully researched novel. The War Outside vividly brings readers into an underrepresented and dark period of American history. A must-read for fans of historical fiction."
    Ruta Sepetys, #1 New York Times bestselling author
  • * "Superb.... A satisfying and bittersweet novel, perfect for those who enjoyed Markus Zusak's The Book Thief."
    SLJ, starred review
  • "Monica Hesse takes a setting we think we understand and shifts it in an important way...a tightly plotted exploration of the consequences of fear."
    The New York Times Book Review
  • "Timely...[Hesse] again uses a well-researched historical backdrop to tell a powerful coming-of-age story."
    Washington Post
  • Praise for Girl in the Blue Coat:The Edgar Award Winner for Best Young Adult Mystery Novel 2017
    A New York Public Library Best Book for Teens of 2016
    An Entertainment Weekly Best YA Book of 2016
    A Booklist Best Young Adult Book of 2016
    A Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People Selection 2017
    A 2017 Indies Choice Awards Finalist for Best Young Adult Book
    A YALSA 2017 Best Book for Young Adults
    A 2017 Bank Street College of Education Best Children's Book of the Year
    A 2017 Wyoming Soaring Eagle Book Award Nominee

    A 2017 Washington, D.C. Capitol Choices List recommended title
    A 2018 Connecticut Nutmeg Book Award Nominee
    2018 All Iowa Young Adults Read
  • "A tapestry of guilt and acceptance, growing responsibility, and reluctant heroism, Hanneke's coming-of-age under heartbreaking circumstances is a jarring reminder of how war consumes and transforms the passions of ordinary life. Every devastating moment of this beautiful novel is both poignant and powerful, and every word feels true."
    Elizabeth Wein, New York Times bestselling author of Black Dove, White Raven; Rose Under Fire; and the Printz Honor-winning Code Name Verity
  • "Taut and intelligent.... the historical setting is rendered the way only an expert can do it."
    Washington Post
  • * "Riveting.... A gripping historical mystery."
    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

On Sale
Apr 7, 2020
Page Count
384 pages
ISBN-13
9780316490580

Book Club Guide

Monica Hesse on the LB School Podcast

Monica Hesse on Writing Historical Fiction for Young Readers

If you’re like me, you’ve spent a lot of the past two months daydreaming of “After.” After covid-19, after quarantine, after stay-at-home orders, after exhausted-looking nurses begging for more personal protective equipment on CNN.

After, I’d like to go to a crowded movie theater and order buttered popcorn. I’d like to hug my best friend; she’s pregnant and she informs me over the phone that she’s increased in size from Pluto to Jupiter. I have a long wish list, but sometimes its hard to imagine the world ever going fully back to normal. Some things are just too wounded. Recovery will be its own journey in ways big and small; it’s going to be a long time until I don’t marvel at a fully-stocked toilet paper aisle.

My latest novel, They Went Left, is set in Poland and Germany in the months immediately following World War II. It’s about the concept of “After,” when that concept turns out to be so more complicated than anyone expected. “What did they mean, it was over?” my main character, 18-year-old Zofia Lederman thinks to herself as her liberators celebrate V-Day. “I was miles from home and I didn’t own so much as my shoes. How was any of this over?” Most of Zofia’s family was killed at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and now she must set off on a quest to find her only living relative, her younger brother, Abek.

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Monica Hesse

About the Author

Monica Hesse is the New York Times bestselling author of Girl in the Blue Coat, American Fire, The War Outside, and They Went Left, as well as a Pulitzer Prize finalist columnist at the Washington Post. She lives outside Washington, DC with her family. Monica invites you to visit her online at monicahesse.com.

Learn more about this author