If this novel ever finds its way onto the screen, Kristina McMorris’ “The Ways We Hide” would have these descriptors: “strong female lead, WWII drama, suspense, based on true events and mature audiences.” McMorris wrote her novel from the perspective of Fenna Vos, a Dutch-American woman living during World War II, a time known as “the Greatest Generation.”
Set in three time periods, the story opened in 1942 with a pace that reminded me later of a kiddie rollercoaster, or maybe the very beginning of one. Fenna and her partner Charles are performing escape acts in front of mostly WWII service members. She doesn’t realize it at the time, but she’s sharing her special skills and abilities in creating illusions to someone from British intelligence. She is the mastermind behind the act and molded Charles into the showman and performer he is today. Their relationship has started to fray though, with Charles starting to drink heavily and to veer from their plans. He went rogue during one act, and Fenna had a PTSD moment that hinted at past trauma. McMorris gave enough clues to make me want to know what happened to Fenna to cause the panic inside.
After one show, British intelligence agent, Christopher Clayton Hutton, approached Fenna to come work for MI9 in London. The upset with Charles caused her to think about someone else she wronged in the pas:, Arie Jansen, a close childhood friend. Fenna contacted Arie, now an engineer and U.S. service member, to ask him about Hutton, but he seemed resentful and angry. Conflicts in her life pushed Fenna into the direction of accepting the position where she would invent gadgets that hide things like maps, compasses, tools, and other items service members would need in combat.
The pace quickened during the second part of the novel and reminded me of those unanticipated drops. In 1928, Fenna experienced a horrific event while living in a copper mining town in fictional Eden Springs, Michigan (Calumet, MI, in real life). She had attended a party on Christmas Eve for striking miners and their children put on by the women’s auxiliary. Fenna met Arie then and the events explained the incredible bond they had later, as well as their individual coping mechanisms.
I won’t give anything away. I will say this part of McMorris’ novel set my heart racing through several chapters. I told my husband what I had read one night when I couldn’t block out the scenes, and he thought I had read a news article. I said, “No, but it might as well be. It’s based on real events.” Sure enough, a search online led me to the story about the Italian Hall and the tragic events in Calumet on Christmas Eve 1913 that became the backstory for Fenna and Arie’s childhood trauma that haunted them into adulthood. I had some sleepless nights, so I started reading this book in the daytime. Yes, it’s that intense.
One of Fenna’s ways of coping came from reading and acting out magic tricks from a book Arie had given her by Harry Houdini called “Houdini’s Big Little Book of Magic Tricks.” I got the sense that she escaped often when facing a breaking point in her life to avoid processing pain.
And the hits in this novel just kept coming for Fenna. But she rose time and time again, doing the best she could to survive each new challenge. Fenna’s coping mechanisms played into her skills later in the field as an agent. She didn’t sleep often at night to avoid her nightmarish past so she could stay awake and alert. Her love of magic and Houdini led to her ability to escape life-threatening situations. She could hide inner turmoil, trauma, and fear behind a semblance of control. She could keep herself moving forward after seeing things that would leave just about anyone else immobilized in terror.
I had great respect and admiration for Fenna, and I definitely think this novel is a “must-read” for fall. Fenna showed:
1. Self-control. Whether thinking through possible scenarios or reading a situation or person, she let herself only briefly go toward the negative, and then stop herself and reign in her thoughts.
2. Strong loyalty. She didn’t jump to conclusions about the people in her life, at least not right away. Her ability to read people well had developed over the years, so she trusted her own judgment.
3. Confidence. She collected information before she went with her instincts. She didn’t let fear take over and stop her in her tracks for long, despite the calculated risks.
4. Character. She didn’t overtly talked about a faith in God, but she held herself and others to a her own strong sense of morals and ethics. As a young child and later as a young woman, and finally,
5. Heroic selflessness. She often put others’ needs before her own. She also tried to protect others from harm at the possible expense of her own happiness, well-being, or safety.
Kristina McMorris is known for her runaway best-selling novel “Sold on a Monday,” a Depression-era novel where a mother must make a gut-wrenching choice, and “Letters from Home,” based on letters between the authors’ grandparents during WWII.
I have always been a fan of older works of literature, so I think it’s why I love historical fiction. Fictional characters become all the more real as a result of the author placing them within the pages of true events in history. I like that McMorris called her historical fiction novels “literary Advil.” She said, “The reader enjoys the sugar-coating of a story on the outside, not realizing how much ‘good stuff’ (real history) they’re actually digesting along the way.” Just read this one in the daylight hours, unless nothing disturbs your sleep. lol
Thank you, Sourcebooks, LLC, and Netgalley for this opportunity to read and review “The Ways We Hide” before its release on Sept 6, 2022. This novel is available as an ebook on Amazon or in paperback, or in paperback at Target or Walmart.