The Lost Girls of Paris

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Book Review

The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff is about the women who sent coded messages from France to England during World War II.

Plot Summary

During World War II, Vera Atkins recruited young women as Special Operations Executive (SOE) operatives for Britain. She believed these girls would be ideal spies in France, able to hide in plain sight, in ways men could not. This fictionalized account shows how Atkins (named Eleanor Trigg in this novel) sought to protect and support her agents in a male-dominated war.

The story begins in 1946, after the war has ended. Grace Healey recently lost her husband, Tom. Since Tom died in a car crash on leave, Grace isn’t technically a war widow. As such, she feels isolated from the many other grieving widows of her day. She has secretly moved to New York City to avoid her family and past.

As she passes through Grand Central Station toward the law office where she works, she finds an abandoned suitcase bearing the name Trigg. Inside are photographs of a dozen women. Police are clearing the area, as someone has just been hit and killed in traffic. Curious about the identities of the women, Grace pockets the photographs.

Grace soon discovers the suitcase belonged to Eleanor Trigg, the woman who was killed. Grace learns all she can about Eleanor, the former leader of a secret wartime organization that used women as spies in Occupied Europe. Tom’s old friend, Mark, pulls strings in Washington so Grace can see government files on the women in the photographs. Records show none of them survived the war.

Alternating with Grace’s narrative are stories of Eleanor and her recruits. Eleanor’s story reveals her passionate concern for the girls she’s sent into the field and her desire to clear her name when she’s accused of letting them die in action.

The narrative also follows a single-mother-turned-SOE operative named Marie. She falls for the operation leader in France, a man named Julian. The Germans use her radio and her identity to undermine the British operation. They capture Marie and Julian and shoot Julian in front of her. Marie spends time in a concentration camp but manages to escape the Germans when the train she’s riding is bombed. She secretly returns to Britain, living quietly with her daughter until Eleanor learns she’s alive. Eleanor is on her way to see Marie when she is hit and killed.

Grace tracks down Marie. Together, the women clear Eleanor’s name. They learn their government allowed the women’s operation to be compromised so they could feed false information to the Germans. Only after the war did Eleanor learn her girls were used as pawns.

Christian Beliefs

None

Other Belief Systems

None

Authority Roles

Eleanor trains her women rigorously and is deeply concerned for their welfare in France. She thinks of them as her younger sister, whose life she was unable to save years earlier. Eleanor’s superior gives her a chance to use women as spies, but he fails to tell her when the government puts them in peril to trick the Germans.

Nazis fight for power and torture those who oppose them. The British government considers the female operatives expendable for the greater good of winning the war.

Profanity & Violence

The words h—, a–, b–tard and s— appear a few times. Eleanor recalls her younger sister dying after being injured by enemy soldiers. German soldiers kick prisoners, threaten them with guns and shoot them. Some of the SOE girls die in concentration camps. There is a mention of women being raped during wartime.

Sexual Content

Grace gets drunk and sleeps with her husband’s old friend, Mark. They kiss a few other times. Eleanor remembers women whoring to save their families. Marie has to hide out in a brothel during part of her time in France.

Discussion Topics

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

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