The Woman with the Blue Star: A Novel

by Pam Jenoff

Book, 2021



Call number




Park Row (2021), Edition: Original, 336 pages


"An emotional novel that you will never forget." --Lisa Scottoline, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Eternal From the author of The Lost Girls of Paris comes a riveting tale of courage and unlikely friendship during World War II -- Now a New York Times bestsller! 1942. Sadie Gault is eighteen and living with her parents in the Kraków Ghetto during World War II. When the Nazis liquidate the ghetto, Sadie and her pregnant mother are forced to seek refuge in the perilous tunnels beneath the city. One day Sadie looks up through a grate and sees a girl about her own age buying flowers. Ella Stepanek is an affluent Polish girl living a life of relative ease with her stepmother, who has developed close alliances with the occupying Germans. While on an errand in the market, she catches a glimpse of something moving beneath a grate in the street. Upon closer inspection, she realizes it's a girl hiding. Ella begins to aid Sadie and the two become close, but as the dangers of the war worsen, their lives are set on a collision course that will test them in the face of overwhelming odds. Inspired by incredible true stories, The Woman with the Blue Star is an unforgettable testament to the power of friendship and the extraordinary strength of the human will to survive. Highly recommended by Entertainment Weekly, Washington Post, CNN, BookTrib, Goodreads, Betches, AARP, Frolic, SheReads, and more!… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member susan0316
I have read and loved all of Pam Jenoff's books and they all stay on my favorite book lists. Her new book is one of the best books that I've read about friendship during World War II - the friendship of two very different girls in totally opposite lives - but a friendship that transcended what was
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going on in the world at this time.

Sadie is 18 and living in the Krakow ghetto with her parents. When the Nazis begin to liquidate the ghetto, they escape into the sewers under the city. With several other families, they settle into a small alcove in the sewer tunnels. At first they think they will be escaping from there soon but it soon become apparent that they need to stay underground to remain safe. Surrounded by the smell of the sewer and with a lack of light, they try to make the best of their circumstances. Sadie longs for sunlight and often goes to the sewer grates to look up into the sun. One day, a girl buying flowers sees Sadie below the grate and when she realizes that it is a girl hiding, she decides that she will help her. Ella is from the rich side of town. Her father has died and she lives with her step mother who spends her time with Nazi officers and treats Ella terribly. The war hasn't really changed Ella's life much so her decision to help Sadie was even more surprising. Over time, as they talk, they realize how much they like each other and would love to get to know each other under different circumstances. As the war continues, both girls are in extreme danger that could claim their lives if anyone found out. Their friendship is more important than the danger that is getting worse and their friendship continues until they must make a decision that will affect both of their lives.

This is a wonderful book about the strength of friendship that transcends social class, religion or living conditions even during the most brutal times. The trust and friendship that they had was a bright shining star during a dark time in world history. Even if you are tired of reading WWII fiction, this is a must read - it's about so much more than they war - it's about love and friendship and family and survival.

I received an Advance Copy of this book.
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LibraryThing member alekee
Pam Jenoff gives us a story that although fictional is based on actual happening, during the period of terror in Europe, know as WWII.
In this page turner read the Gault family is running for their lives, and their crime? Being Jewish! What a horrible time, a blight on history, and through the eyes
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of this young eighteen year old we are experiencing what life was like back then.
Can you imagine living in a sewer? The smell, and then not being able to bathe and get this slime off of you, and to do this for months and months. Then finding food? Thank goodness for some good samaritans, but, the evil catches up with them too, how do they survive?
This is an eye opener, and a story that needs to be told, and not forgotten.
Love the epilogue!

I received this book through Net Galley and the Publisher Harlequin, and was not required to give a positive
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LibraryThing member SilversReviews
Leaving your beautiful home, having to move to the ghetto, and then forced out of the ghetto into hiding in the city sewer system.

Could this get any worse for Sadie and her family?

Could it really be a hiding place unknown to the Germans and a safe place for two Jewish families?

Sadie and her mother
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knew it was the best place to be for now, but living there was horrible. No windows, awful smells, floods, and always cold.

One day Sadie notices a girl looking down through a grate. Sadie drew back, but the girl actually became the light in Sadie’s dreary days and brought food.

It was very dangerous for both girls and the others hiding below. You will feel the terror and desperation the characters felt but also the hope that things will work out.

Ms. Jenoff has brought another heartbreaking situation to light but also showed us the power of friendship, caring, and endurance.

If you are a fan of Ms. Jenoff’s books, this one is an outstanding addition to her marvelous, well-researched gems that you do NOT want to miss.

You will be glued to the pages as you live the lives of the characters. 5/5

This book was given to me as an advanced digital review copy by the publisher via NetGalley and Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
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LibraryThing member JanaRose1
When the Nazi's begin rounding up Jews living in the ghetto, Sadie and her family escape into the sewers. Her father is tragically swept away and drowns, but Sadie, her pregnant mother, and another family find a hiding place. One day when looking through a grate, Sadie meets Ella, a free Polish
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girl. Ella, who lives with her stepmother, quickly befriends Sadie and begins bringing her food.

Although this was a very interesting setting, I did not feel like I ever fully knew the characters. The characters seemed a bit stereotypical and lacked depth. The plot was slow paced and it seemed to take a long time to build momentum. Overall, 3 out of 5 stars.
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LibraryThing member BettyTaylor56
This is a historical fiction inspired by the true story of a small group of Jews who survived WWII by living in the sewers of Lviv, Poland. While life became more and more difficult for the people of Poland, it was much, much worse for the Jews who lived in the sewers. The constant horrendous
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smells, the disease-infested waters, the constant wet feet - all this is just unimaginable and a sign of their desperation to survive.

Set in 1942, eighteen-year-old Sadie Gault, along with her father and pregnant mother and another family, relocate from the Kraków Ghetto to the sewers when the Nazis liquidate the ghetto. One day as Sadie is walking the sewer tunnels, she looks up through a grate and sees a girl about her own age.

Ella Stepanek, a Polish girl, lives an affluent life with her stepmother, who has relationships with the occupying Germans. One day as she is shopping in the market, she catches a glimpse of a girl beneath a grate in the street. Thus begins a remarkable friendship.

This is a story of family, loss, friendship, trust, sacrifice, and even love. The part I found most interesting was the developing relationship between a nonobservant Jewish family and a religious Jewish family forced to live in a confined space. I also loved the friendship that developed between Sadie and Ella.

The story pulled me right in, and I found it extremely hard to put the book down. The characters are realistic. I found the lives of both female protagonists interesting – how Sadie manages living in the sewers, and the risks Ella takes to meet with Sadie and provide her aid.

The story is very emotional and gives witness to the extraordinary strength of the human will to survive. It will leave readers with a great deal to think about.
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LibraryThing member sunshine608
I am a big Pam Jenoff fan and this book did not disappoint, but I had a different feel than many of others work. This one felt a bit more action-packed ( rather than story/plot driven) than some of her other titles and for that reason, I finished it rather quickly.

While this story is fictional, it
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is loosely related/inspired by a true story of a group of Polish Jews that hid from the Nazis in the sewer system.

The ending was a nice touch, but some of it felt a little forced. I had to go back and read because it felt like I missed something ( which I guess was the point). IT was nice to get an ending with an update on many of the characters throughout the book.

Thank you to NetGalley for an advanced copy of this book for review.
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LibraryThing member thewanderingjew
The Woman With The Blue Star, Pam Jenoff, author; Jennifer Jill Araya, Emily Lawrence, Nancy Peterson, narrators.
The setting is Krakow, Poland. It is 1942 and Hitler has conquered the country. At first conditions were bearable for those who were not hunted, but as the war progressed, the situation
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worsened. After the Jews were gone, the Nazis simply went after the Poles. There were shortages of food, curfews and roundups which terrified the populace. Although Poland didn’t welcome the Nazis with open arms as did the Austrians, they put up little resistance. Soon, however, a secret Home Army formed to save Poland and sabotage the German effort. Their effort was directed mainly toward saving Poland and was not very concerned with the mistreatment of Jews, or others, whom the Germans deemed not sufficiently Aryan.
Eighteen-year-old Sadie Gault is a Jew in Krakow. Her family is not religious and she enjoyed, what to her was an idyllic life. She had everything she wanted including two loving parents. She also had a brother, Maciej, who lived in Paris with his boyfriend. When the Germans came, life changed dramatically, not just because the Jews were required to wear a blue star on their clothing, but because soon, fear of the Germans isolated them from others. As life for the Jews and people like Maciej, contracted with barbaric rules and as schools and parks and all forms of culture were closed to them, the Germans began to tighten the noose even more. Jews were herded into ghettoes and actions were staged to round them up for arrest or transport to work camps. Soon the roundups would ensnare the Gault family too. They had to escape.
Ella Stepanek, also a teenager, lives in luxury with her stepmother, Ana Lucia, who dislikes her intensely and the feeling is mutual. Both her parents were dead so she has no choice but to suffer Anna Lucia’s cruelty. Because Ana Lucia collaborates with the Germans, Ella does not witness the deprivation other Poles are dealing with. There are no food shortages in her home and her movement around the city is not restricted since she has obtained a special travel document. However, Ella despises the Germans and resents her stepmother’s relationship with them. She stays away as much as possible whenever Anna Lucia is entertaining her “friends”. Although she is not experiencing much of a change due to the war, she is suddenly beginning to notice others who are not as fortunate. One day she witnesses a Jewish woman jump into the river with her infant, rather than allow herself to be captured by the Nazis. She feared their brutality more than death. Their reputation for cruelty and violence was well known.
One day, when Ella was out and about, she noticed something strange in a sewer grate. It appeared to be two hungry eyes staring back at her. Realizing that it was not a rat but a person who would not want to be discovered, she did not react. Why are you in the sewer, she asked. When she realized that several people were living there in secret, she began to help them. That is how Ella came to know Sadie. Sadie lived in the sewer with her pregnant mom and the orthodox Rosenberg family.
As the unlikely friendship between Ella and Sadie developed and grew more intense because of the traumatic times, the reader is gently introduced to the horrors of Hitler. The reader discovers the bravery of ordinary citizens who risk their lives to save Jews, while other equally ordinary citizens coldly turn them in for a crust of bread, or like Ana Lucia, curry favors from the Germans by befriending them and even passing them information. The underground effort, of ordinary citizens, to sabotages the German effort and plan the Warsaw Ghetto uprising is really commendable. Although condition are horrific, the Jews that are in the ghettoes and the Jews in hiding often find a store of resilience they did not know that they had. They find the courage to survive.
Although the book purports to be historical fiction, it soon devolves into more of a coming of age, romance novel that seems more appropriate for the YA crowd. The narrative is a little juvenile, the historic information is sparse, and the characters behavior is often implausible. Rather than behaving like adults in the most extreme, traumatic situation, the two female main characters appear to be naïve and self-centered most of the time, giving in to their very childish impulses, disregarding the danger to themselves and others. Their choices were often naïve and immature, leading to unnecessary injury to others. The narrator’s interpretation often exacerbated this feeling.
In spite of this, however, the atmosphere at the time of the Holocaust seems genuine and the description of the savage behavior of the Germans seems accurate. For someone who is not a student of that part of history, this will serve as a heartbreaking introduction. Although parts of the story are difficult to believe, I personally know of a family that lived in a sewer because of the good graces of a farmer who risked his life to let them stay there. He provided for their needs as best he could. My friend’s mother then silently gave birth to a daughter, in a ditch dug by her husband. Thankfully, they did survive the war. The book has a surprise ending, so do not peek.
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LibraryThing member Virginia51
If you are looking for a sad and yet happy story that takes place in Poland during WWll you will love this daring tale. Sadie and Ella are quite different young women who grew up in Poland and accidentally meet during the last years of the war. They are wonderful young women that each have
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struggles that they must overcome. You will want Kleenex handy. I received a copy of this book from HarperCollins/Mira for a fair and honest opinion that I gave of my own free will.
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LibraryThing member bookchickdi
Author Pam Jenoff adds to her growing canon of WWII stories about courageous women with her latest novel, The Woman with the Blue Star.

Sadie is eighteen years-old when she and her parents are forced to flee into the sewer tunnels of Krakow to avoid being captured by the Nazis and sent to a
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concentration camp. Pawel, a handyman who Sadie's father showed kindness to, repays him by hiding Sadie's family and an Orthodox family- a father, his adult son Saul, and his elderly mother- in the sewer and bringing them small stores of food when he can.

They escaped with few belongings, and are forced to live in a cramped area of the sewer. The smell is atrocious, and the boredom is nearly as bad as the fear of being discovered by the Nazis. One day, Sadie wanders to the sewer grate and on the street above, her eyes meet a woman close in age to her.

Ella peers down and she is shocked to see Sadie. Ella's father is deceased, and she lives with her stepmother, a woman who entertains German soldiers in the family home, much to Ella's disgust. Ellas's stepmother reminds her repeatedly that she can kick Ella out of her home anytime she wishes.

Ella decides that she must help Sadie, even if it puts her own life in jeopardy. She brings Sadie food, and they form a deep friendship. Ella even takes things further, becoming involved in the resistance movement, risking her own life.

Jenoff based her novel on the true stories of Jewish people who hid in the sewer tunnels in Krakow during the war. I had never heard these stories, and she does an admirable job placing the reader right down there with Sadie and the others. You can feel the claustrophobic atmosphere surrounding you as you read, and wonder if you yourself would have the courage to do what Sadie and Ella did.

At its heart, The Woman with the Blue Star is a story of the bond of friendship that bring two young women together, and the courage they show, in the face of grave danger. The amazing resilience of the human spirit is on full display as well. Fans of Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale will want to add this to their To-Be-Read list.

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on Pam Jenoff's tour.
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LibraryThing member fredreeca
The Germans have moved Sadie and her family into the ghetto in Krakow. They have lived there for quite a while when the Germans decided to eliminate all of the Jews. To save themselves, Sadie and her family move to the sewer system.

Sadie meets Ella, a young polish girl, through a grate. This chance
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meeting lifts Sadie’s spirits and may end up saving her life in the long run.

What an emotional roller coaster! Sadie’s situation and the tragedy she has experienced almost had me in tears! Pile on the intensity of her situation and I was all over the place! AND! The intensity and emotion just keeps growing as the story moves along!

Need a good tear jerker! THIS IS IT! Grab your copy today!

I received this novel from the publisher for a honest review.
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LibraryThing member bookmuse56
A compelling and emotionally rich heart-wrenching tale of remarkable acts of bravery, survival, and long-held secrets and reconciliation.

A well-researched storyline that is made even more poignant as it is inspired by true events.

It is 1943 Poland, and as the Nazi have become aggressive in rounding
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the Jewish population, Sadie and her family take to the sewers to avoid this horrific act. One day Catholic Ella looks down at a sewer gate and sees Sadie peering up. Both girls are 19 and tentatively start to form a friendship which could have serious consequences for both, so trust is wary and will get tested.

While I found the storyline riveting, there were times when the timeline of events seemed to compress the sequence of events. I was glad that despite the harrowing circumstances that Sadie and Ella found small times of joy and hope as young women would have in more peaceful time.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing an eARC of this book in exchange for a honest review.
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LibraryThing member nbmars
As the author explains in a note at the end of this profoundly touching novel:

“This book was inspired in part by the true story of a small group of Jews who survived World War II in the sewers of Lviv, Poland. The account that I have written and set in Krakow is wholly fictitious. . . . . If you
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would like to read more about the true story, I recommend the nonfiction book In the Sewers of Lvov by Robert Marshall.”

The book she recommends by Marshall relates how a group of Jews spent 14 months in 1943-1944 hiding in the sewer system in the Ukrainian city of Lvov. [Throughout its history, Lviv has had several names. The city was known as Lwów when the Poles ruled, the Austro-Hungarian Empire called it Lemberg, and Jewish residents referred to it as Lemberik. Currently, many languages have their own spelling and pronunciation. This is the case with ‘Lviv’ (Ukrainian) and ‘Lvov’ (Russian).] That group consisted of 20 people, including two children and a pregnant woman.

The fictional group in The Woman with the Blue Star is made up of two families: Sadie Gault, 18, and her pregnant mother; and Meyer Rosenberg, his elderly mother, and his son Saul, who is around Sadie’s age. Like the group in Lvov, they were helped by a sewer worker, and as the real-life group did, they learned to deal with darkness in confined spaces; the horrific odors; feces; rats; lack of adequate food; constant fear of abandonment and discovery; and sickness and death.

Sadie’s fate becomes unexpectedly joined with that of Ella Stepanek, 19. Ella, as a Christian Pole, is technically free, but lives in her own hell above ground.

The ways in which the lives of all these characters play out, and what happens to them, create an unforgettable saga. An Epilogue in 2016 ends the story with a surprising twist.

Evaluation: Pam Jenoff is an excellent writer, and this book is her best so far, in my opinion. The courage of the characters in spite of their dire circumstances and the poignancy of their stories will grab hold of your heart and shake up your conception of what is possible - both in terms of horrific actions people are capable of taking against each other, and how some manage to survive it in spite of everything.
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LibraryThing member mrstreme
With every story I have read about the horrors of the Holocaust, I learn more about the resilience, tenacity, and greatness of the human spirit. How human beings, facing the worst of circumstances, can rise up to fall in love, form friendships, mourn death, and stay alive, somehow.

Those are
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certainly the lessons I learned from Pam Jenoff's book, The Woman With The Blue Star.

Set in Poland, this story is a celebration of two unlikely friends: Sadie, a young Jewish woman living in the sewer to escape the Nazis, and Ella, a young Polish woman who tries to find meaning and purpose in the throes of war. I could not imagine being in either woman's shoes, and I admired their bravery, friendship, and loyalty to each other.

In case you're like me and wondered if Jewish people did live in sewers to escape the Germans, the answer is yes. even the darkest of places can become a sanctuary of hope.

The Woman With The Blue Star is my first Pam Jenoff book but certainly not my last. She's a masterful storyteller, expertly leading us through this tragedy, unafraid to show us how people lived and died. I won't soon forget Ella or Sadie. Even though they are fictional characters, I have no doubt they represent many young women from this era: strong, determined, brave.
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LibraryThing member shazjhb
Another Holocaust story written about friendship and the will to survive. Hopefully not to present Poles in a more favorable light.
LibraryThing member clrichm
Okay. I have to admit it: Mrs. Jenoff, you totally fooled me with that ending. I'll defend myself by insisting that I would have caught on sooner had I been reading the book instead of listening to the audiobook; the narrator's emotional, seamless flow made me miss any thoughts of "why aren't we
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using any names anymore?" I noted that the last full chapter hadn't been titled with Ella's or Sadie's name, but I assumed at the time (yeah, yeah) that it was a subtle nod to the fact that it was no longer necessary to differentiate, since only one girl was still alive. But I missed the intentional vagueness, and I was completely baffled until I went back and relistened to the chapter. Checkmate, Mrs. Jenoff.

I really liked the two main characters, but I wish others around them had gotten more description or development. Khrys left me cold, for one, since I knew so little about him. The story felt well-researched in some parts, but lacked in others (e.g. referring to Ella's brother as "gay" when that term wouldn't have been the likely one for the era). Some of the writing was a little repetitive, too; how many times can the characters say "Don't let it [someone's death] have been for nothing!"? But the plot drew me in enough that I was able to put that aside, for the most part.
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LibraryThing member Jynell
Departing from the typical historical fiction theme, The Woman with the Blue Star takes the reader underground and views life in a completely different way. Rather than fighting against Nazi Germany, Sadie and her family flee to the sewer to save their lives. The journey along the way is filled
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with plenty of loss, love, and friendship.

This book was thought provoking from start to finish, it was something fresh and new, and it definitely pulled at my heart strings. Told from two view points, the reader is given the view of life in the sewer as well as outside of the sewer fighting to help protect those living in the sewer.

The writing, as always, is fabulous and I genuinely enjoyed reading this.
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LibraryThing member kakadoo202
Very superficial characters but moving story.
LibraryThing member deslivres5
I enjoy historical fiction which unfold from different perspectives.
This novel is told mainly in two alternating voices, Sadie, a Polish Jewish teenager forced
to live in the Kraków ghetto, and Ella, a Polish Catholic teenager who lives in an affluent part of the city. How they meet and become
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friends is heartbreaking, as is this entire story.

I sort of guessed the resolution to this story early, maybe even as early as the prologue. However, the mysterious prologue set the tone of my reading: I sped through, hoping to validate my guess.

The story, while filled with tragedy, was at the heart a story of the bonds of friendship and family.
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Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

336 p.; 8.96 inches


0778389383 / 9780778389385
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