Three Ordinary Girls, by Tim Brady

Reading Three Ordinary Girls was an odd experience for me. I both enjoyed and actively disliked this book. Complaints first.

When a nonfiction book cites Wikipedia, I cringe. It conjures memories of my teachers telling me that Wikipedia wasn’t an acceptable source for my papers (despite being better on average than most encyclopedias, which my teachers did accept as source material). Maybe I’m stuck in the past’s paper-writing habits, but surely Tim Brady can hunt down whatever sources the Wiki editor used, and reference those instead? I think what bothered me most was that nearly all of the referenced sources in this book boil down to just a few pieces, referenced over and over again. I couldn’t help but wonder whether I should have read those books instead. I would have liked more depth and breadth of source material.

Now, that may be empty quibbling: those few referenced pieces are the extant primary and secondary sources, in most cases sourced directly from the people involved. They include interview material from the “ordinary girls” in question. But… I would expect someone writing a nonfiction book to at least cite original sources for the material cribbed from Wikipedia. Maybe I’d feel differently if the book read less like someone had simply punched up a previously existing secondary source and slathered it with in-the-moment details cribbed from a primary. Or maybe this is just Tim Brady’s style (I haven’t read any of his other books). Either way, I don’t like it. Maybe you won’t mind.

All that said…

Three Ordinary Girls is gripping. The lives of these young Dutch women during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, and the actions they take as members of the resistance, are exciting and frightening. Their story is painful and dramatic and evocative. It’s bloody. It’s scary. It’s a potent reminder of the banality of human cruelty, and of the messy and complicated ways in which people act when their world is tossed upside down. It’s another example of how occupation, revolution, collaboration, and resistance are overlapping and confusing and violent, with few places of certainty or security. And it’s a testament to the bravery and convictions of the three young women whose stories this book tells.

To its credit, Three Ordinary Girls doesn’t try to reassure the reader with a sanitized, polished, or clear cut glamorous war story. That may be what I admire most about it. There are many admirable stories about how people stood up and did the right thing to oppose the Nazis. But those often ignore the painful truths of how that resistance was hard, and confusing, and traumatizing, and sometimes resulted in bloody mistakes, internal conflict, and power struggles. I appreciate the way in which this book captures all of that.

For those reasons, I’d probably recommend this even if it were less well written and researched. Well, maybe not less well researched… I do prefer my historical nonfiction to remain nonfiction. But yeah, it’s good as long as you’re ready, willing, and able to stomach the awfulness.

But… there’s a lot of awfulness. Be ready to be distressed. The Nazi occupation of the Netherlands was violent, cruel, and bad in just about every way you can imagine the Nazis being. The only redeeming quality to it was that they (the Nazis) didn’t engage in quite as much wholesale murder as they did in Eastern Europe. Scant comfort.

If you don’t already know enough about teenagers in the Dutch resistance during World War Two, and want to know more, check this out. If you aren’t up for reading about brutality and murder in uncertain times, you should probably look for something else.

Resistance, by Samit Basu

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When I wrote about Turbulence a little more than a month ago, I agreed with the book’s cover blurb in my demand for a sequel.  But while it’s hard to make something that is truly good and worthy of others’ consumption, it’s even harder to make something as good to follow the first.  Fortunately, I think Basu succeeds where many others have failed, and offers a sequel that not only delivers on the promise of the first book, but follows it appropriately in tone and structure as well.  If you want good superhero fiction, this is an excellent place to start.  Or, rather, Turbulence is a good place to start.  Then you should read this.  And for heaven’s sake, don’t read them in the other order, you’ll just spoil lots of cool stuff from the first book.

Like last time, I find myself in agreement with the cover blurb on Basu’s book, and yet again I think that the blurb misses something even more wonderful; I’m still convinced that Samit Basu is some sort of Bob Ross of words, successfully conjuring worlds out of thin air with the sparsest of descriptions.  Unlike last time, I took more than one day to finish reading this book.  Perhaps if my reading hadn’t been interrupted by working at an overnight summer camp I would have powered through this book as well.  I can’t tell whether I did not feel as drawn in by Resistance as I did by Turbulence because of those delays or because of something else, but I’m happy to give the book a pass given how much I enjoyed it anyway.

Suffice it to say that if you liked the first book, you’ll like this one too.  And if you haven’t read the first one but are down with non-American supers and women who aren’t just given the short end of the stick, you should definitely read Turbulence (and then Resistance).  If you like superhero stories at all, I suspect you’ll like Basu’s work here.  More on the details after the break…

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