The Paris Library Author Recommends 5 Courageous Characters Who Inspire Her

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Janet Skeslien Charles is the award-winning author of THE PARIS LIBRARY, which was selected as a #1 Indie Next Pick by independent booksellers. Janet’s first novel, MOONLIGHT IN ODESSA, was translated into twelve languages. She has been in Paris since March 2020 and loves talking to friends, family, and book clubs on Zoom. Visit her at jskesliencharles.com.

Based on the true World War II story of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris, The Paris Library is a tale of friendship, family, and the power of literature to bring us together. When I worked at the American Library in Paris, coworkers told me about the international team of librarians who defied the Nazis in order to hand deliver books to Jewish readers. The librarians resisted with the only weapons they had: books. It was a dangerous mission—a librarian was shot by the gestapo. I knew this story was a novel and sat down to write it.

I can’t help but think of the parallels between life now and the situation in The Paris Library. Before the war, in the summer of 1939, librarians, like all Parisians, carried gas masks. People pasted brown strips of paper on the windows as protection against shattered glass in case of bombing and brought in pails of dirt to put out possible fires. Today, we are wearing a different kind of mask, and once again, we are afraid for our loved ones. Then and now, anxiety is in the air because we don’t know what will happen. We only know that life has changed.

In these perilous times, I am even more in awe of the brave librarians. I would like to share a few books whose common theme is everyday courage.

The Bright Side Sanctuary for Animals
by Becky Mandelbaum

Today, it is easy to declare loved ones “toxic” and remove them from our lives and our Facebook feeds without ever telling them what they did to hurt us. In this novel, characters have the hard conversations. As a recent high school graduate, Ariel Siskin found the courage to defy her mother in order to go away to college. Now, a few years later, Ariel must summon the courage to return home to face a friend she has wronged. I loved the exploration of mother-daughter relationships as well as one’s relationship to home. The author did an amazing job of creating nuanced, complex characters.

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The Bright Side Sanctuary for Animals
Becky Mandelbaum

From the winner of the 2016 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction comes a tender and funny debut novel, set over one emotionally charged weekend at an animal sanctuary in western Kansas, where maternal, romantic, and community bonds are tested in the wake of an estranged daughter’s homecoming.

The Bright Side Sanctuary for Animals is in trouble.

It’s late 2016 when Ariel discovers that her mother Mona’s animal sanctuary in Western Kansas has not only been the target of anti-Semitic hate crimes—but that it’s also for sale, due to hidden financial ruin. Ariel, living a new life in progressive Lawrence, and estranged from her mother for six long years, knows she has to return to her childhood home—especially since her own past may have played a role in the attack on the sanctuary. Ariel expects tension, maybe even fury, but she doesn’t anticipate that her first love, a ranch hand named Gideon, will still be working at the Bright Side.

Back in Lawrence, Ariel’s charming but hapless fiancé, Dex, grows paranoid about her sudden departure. After uncovering Mona’s address, he sets out to confront Ariel, but instead finds her grappling with the life she’s abandoned. Amid the reparations with her mother, it’s clear that Ariel is questioning the meaning of her life in Lawrence, and whether she belongs with Dex or with someone else, somewhere else.

Acclaimed writer Pam Houston says that “Mandelbaum is wise beyond her years and twice as talented,” and The Bright Side Sanctuary for Animals poignantly explores the unique love and tension between mothers and daughters, and humans and animals alike. Perceptive and funny, moving and eloquent, and ultimately buoyant, Mandelbaum offers a panoramic view of family and forgiveness, and of the meaning of home. Her debut reminds us that love provides refuge, and underscores our similarities as human beings, no matter how alone or far apart we may feel.

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The Forgotten Home Child
by Genevieve Graham

In history class, many of us read about convicts sent from England to Australia. However, I never learned about the children sent from England to Canada. Children! From 1869 to 1939, over 100,000 orphaned, abandoned, and destitute children were sent to Canada, where they were often used as a source of free farm labor. In this novel, Winny is an English teen who’s forced to leave her entire life behind as she faces the unknown. Through her eyes, we learn the plight of several Home Children—those who were adopted and cherished as well as those who were treated like slaves and abused. I love books that teach me something. The author’s note gave me chills. We see the courage of these children. We see their hard work and hope. I hope the readers of THE PARIS LIBRARY will feel the same excitement at learning the true story of the brave librarians.

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The Forgotten Home Child
Genevieve Graham

The Home for Unwanted Girls meets Orphan Train in this unforgettable novel about a young girl caught in a scheme to rid England’s streets of destitute children, and the lengths she will go to find her way home—based on the true story of the British Home Children.

2018

At ninety-seven years old, Winnifred Ellis knows she doesn’t have much time left, and it is almost a relief to realize that once she is gone, the truth about her shameful past will die with her. But when her great-grandson Jamie, the spitting image of her dear late husband, asks about his family tree, Winnifred can’t lie any longer, even if it means breaking a promise she made so long ago...

1936

Fifteen-year-old Winny has never known a real home. After running away from an abusive stepfather, she falls in with Mary, Jack, and their ragtag group of friends roaming the streets of Liverpool. When the children are caught stealing food, Winny and Mary are left in Dr. Barnardo’s Barkingside Home for Girls, a local home for orphans and forgotten children found in the city’s slums. At Barkingside, Winny learns she will soon join other boys and girls in a faraway place called Canada, where families and better lives await them.

But Winny’s hopes are dashed when she is separated from her friends and sent to live with a family that has no use for another daughter. Instead, they have paid for an indentured servant to work on their farm. Faced with this harsh new reality, Winny clings to the belief that she will someday find her friends again.

Inspired by true events, The Forgotten Home Child is a moving and heartbreaking novel about place, belonging, and family—the one we make for ourselves and its enduring power to draw us home.

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Wow, No Thank You
by Samantha Irby

I love this essay collection. At times tender, at times hilarious, the range of these essays is incredible. Irby covers everything from the unnatural place that insurance companies inhabit in our health and in our lives, to heavy menstrual periods that make it hard to leave the house, to the business of getting a book published. In a fearless, candid manner, the author shares her struggles and lets readers know that we are not alone. I appreciate the courage it takes to talk about the topics our society prefers to keep shrouded. When you read Samantha Irby, you feel like you have a good friend who will tell it to you straight.

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Wow, No Thank You
Samantha Irby

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The Buddha in the Attic
by Julie Otsuka

This is a gorgeous novel about Japanese mail-order brides who traveled to the US to marry men they did not know. Written in the first-person plural, it shows the courage of women who leave their homeland in hopes of a better life. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese American women and their husbands and children are rounded up like criminals and imprisoned in internment camps in bitterly cold states like Montana and Wyoming. The courage of the women shines through in this dark chapter of American history. As in THE PARIS LIBRARY, readers see how the lives of ordinary people were changed forever by World War II.

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The Buddha in the Attic
Julie Otsuka

In this spellbinding novel of identity and loyalty, a collective narrator traces the extraordinary lives of young women brought from Japan to San Francisco as “picture brides”—from their arduous journeys by boat to their tremulous first nights as wives.

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Dare to Disappoint
by Ozge Samanci

This funny, poignant illustrated memoir is about a girl who loves school and plans to be an artist. However, her father expects her to become an engineer. In both this book and in THE PARIS LIBRARY, the main character must summon the courage to follow her dreams as well as tell her father that his plans for the future are not her plans. The backdrop of DARE TO DISAPPOINT is the history of Turkey, including the clash between Western pop culture and more conservative Muslim values. The artwork is absolutely incredible, from drawings to a portrait made with a date stamp. I laughed. I felt tears well in my eyes. I learned something.

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Dare to Disappoint
Ozge Samanci

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The Paris Library
by Janet Skeslien Charles

Janet Skeslien Charles's book THE PARIS LIBRARY is out now!

Paris, 1939: Young and ambitious Odile Souchet has it all: her handsome police officer beau and a dream job at the American Library in Paris. When the Nazis march into Paris, Odile stands to lose everything she holds dear, including her beloved library. Together with her fellow librarians, Odile joins the Resistance with the best weapons she has: books. But when the war finally ends, instead of freedom, Odile tastes the bitter sting of unspeakable betrayal.

Montana, 1983: Lily is a lonely teenager looking for adventure in small-town Montana. Her interest is piqued by her solitary, elderly neighbor. As Lily uncovers more about her neighbor’s mysterious past, she finds that they share a love of language, the same longings, and the same intense jealousy, never suspecting that a dark secret from the past connects them.

A powerful novel that explores the consequences of our choices and the relationships that make us who we are—family, friends, and favorite authors—THE PARIS LIBRARY shows that extraordinary heroism can sometimes be found in the quietest of places.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo Bookshop logo Libro.fm logo
The Paris Library
Janet Skeslien Charles

Based on the true World War II story of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris, this is an unforgettable story of romance, friendship, family, and the power of literature to bring us together, perfect for fans of The Lilac Girls and The Paris Wife.

Paris, 1939: Young and ambitious Odile Souchet has it all: her handsome police officer beau and a dream job at the American Library in Paris. When the Nazis march into Paris, Odile stands to lose everything she holds dear, including her beloved library. Together with her fellow librarians, Odile joins the Resistance with the best weapons she has: books. But when the war finally ends, instead of freedom, Odile tastes the bitter sting of unspeakable betrayal.

Montana, 1983: Lily is a lonely teenager looking for adventure in small-town Montana. Her interest is piqued by her solitary, elderly neighbor. As Lily uncovers more about her neighbor’s mysterious past, she finds that they share a love of language, the same longings, and the same intense jealousy, never suspecting that a dark secret from the past connects them.

A powerful novel that explores the consequences of our choices and the relationships that make us who we are—family, friends, and favorite authors—The Paris Library shows that extraordinary heroism can sometimes be found in the quietest of places.

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