The Underground Library

Jennifer Ryan's charming fifth historical novel, The Underground Library, centers on London's Bethnal Green Library, which operated out of the neighborhood's tube station during the Blitz of 1940. Ryan weaves together the stories of Juliet, the spirited deputy librarian; Sofie, a German Jewish refugee struggling to build a new life; and Katie, a young library assistant who finds herself in desperate circumstances. The resulting narrative is an inspiring portrait of neighbors pulling together in tough times and a heartwarming tribute to the ways books can connect and sustain.

Ryan (The Kitchen Front; The Chilbury Ladies' Choir) alternates among her three characters' perspectives, sharing Juliet's determination to make the library a community hub; Sofie's search for news of her family; and Katie's grief for her missing soldier fiancé, Christopher. Each of the women finds solace at the library, even after the Nazis start dropping bombs, and all three step up to help the library continue its work. Juliet starts a reading club and joins the volunteer ambulance service, and all of them learn to make the best of a trying situation--even if it involves sleeping in the tube station most nights. When each of the women finds themselves in crisis, the library, through its books and its patrons, provides comfort and inspiration, and it helps all three women (and their neighbors) imagine a way forward.

Based on true events, Ryan's novel is a plucky, can-do narrative of female friendship, grit in wartime, and (of course) the enduring power of books. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

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