The Little Wartime Library by Kate Thompson #NetGalley #ARCReview #BookReview #WorldWarII

London, 1944: Clara Button is no ordinary librarian. While war ravages the city above her, Clara has risked everything she holds dear to turn the Bethnal Green tube station into the country’s only underground library. Down here, a secret community thrives with thousands of bunk beds, a nursery, a café, and a theater—offering shelter, solace, and escape from the bombs that fall upon their city.

          Along with her glamorous best friend and assistant Ruby Munroe, Clara ensures the library is the beating heart of life underground. But as the war drags on, the women’s determination to remain strong in the face of adversity is tested to the limits when it may come at the price of keeping those closest to them alive.

The Little Wartime Library (Amazon US) (Amazon UK) (Audible) I received and ARC of this book from Hodder & Stoughton Books and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

I thought I was tired of World War II historical fiction, as it’s been a very popular subject in publishing for several years. But as The Little Wartime Library shows, there are still plenty of stories out there that need to be told.

Based upon a true story, the book is set in the Bethnal Green tube station after The Blitz, where an entire community is living after being bombed out. An unfinished portion of the tube, it’s transformed into a dorm for 5,000 and boasts a theatre and more importantly, an underground library led by former children’s librarian Clara Button, whose husband died at Dunkirk, and assisted by Ruby Monroe, a young woman who lives life to the fullest and breaks the conventions of the day by playing around.

There’s actually a host of characters, including the Tube Rats, the young children who have grown up underground, like Sparrow and Tubby. There’s also two special girls, Marie and Beatty, shipped to London from the Channel Islands after Germans occupied the land (something for which I was unaware until reading), whose Mom always seems to be working when asked to see her. Then there’s the warden of the underground living space, Mrs. Chumley, and the elderly Mr. Pepper, who helps out in the library after he loses his wife in a German V2 rocket bomb attack.

Not only do you have the historical fiction of the real-life underground wartime library, you’ve got the undercurrent of feminist overtures throughout the book. The husbands who frequent the library to complain that they don’t want their wives reading because it gives them ideas and women aren’t supposed to think for themselves, the library director who barely puts up with Clara only because she was featured in the local paper but would just as soon seen her and her progressive thinking out the door. He keeps telling her she’s only a placeholder until the men come back from war, and the only reason she has the job is because her boss, Peter, was killed during the Blitz on the first night, when the real library was bombed.

Of course, there’s also love interests for Clara and Ruby, whose stories are told with alternating chapters. Clara finds herself falling for an ambulance driver, a “conchie” (Conscientious objector) who gave up his commission after Dunkirk, and for Ruby, an American G.I. named Eddy, who is shipping out to France soon. The romance aspect of the book isn’t heavy at all, and there are no real sex scenes, which I thought was great because of the greater story being told.

The author’s notes at the end of the book, with pictures of the actual library in the tube, the bombed out original library, and the importance of libraries in Britain are explored in depth and give a fuller picture to what was a wonderful World War II historical fiction book. Five stars!

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