Book Review: The Last Year of The War

13 Aug

From the acclaimed author of Secrets of a Charmed Life and As Bright as Heaven comes a novel about a German American teenager whose life changes forever when her immigrant family is sent to an internment camp during World War II.
In 1943, Elise Sontag is a typical American teenager from Iowa — aware of the war but distanced from its reach. Then her father, a legal U.S. resident for nearly two decades, is suddenly arrested on suspicion of being a Nazi sympathizer. The family is sent to an internment camp in Texas, where, behind the armed guards and barbed wire, Elise feels stripped of everything beloved and familiar, including her own identity.
The only thing that makes the camp bearable is meeting fellow internee Mariko Inoue, a Japanese-American teen from Los Angeles, whose friendship empowers Elise to believe the life she knew before the war will again be hers. Together in the desert wilderness, Elise and Mariko hold tight the dream of being young American women with a future beyond the fences.
But when the Sontag family is exchanged for American prisoners behind enemy lines in Germany, Elise will face head-on the person the war desires to make of her. In that devastating crucible she must discover if she has the will to rise above prejudice and hatred and re-claim her own destiny, or disappear into the image others have cast upon her.
The Last Year of the War tells a little-known story of World War II with great resonance for our own times and challenges the very notion of who we are when who we’ve always been is called into question.

Susan Meissner is the USA Today bestselling author of historical fiction with more than half a million books in print in fifteen languages. Her novels include The Last Year of the War, a Library Reads and Real Simple top pick; As Bright as Heaven, which received a starred review from Library Journal; Secrets of a Charmed Life, a 2015 Goodreads Choice award finalist; and A Fall of Marigolds, named to Booklist’s Top Ten women’s fiction titles for 2014. She is also RITA finalist and Christy Award and Carol Award winner. A California native, she attended Point Loma Nazarene University and is also a writing workshop volunteer for Words Alive, a San Diego non-profit dedicated to helping at-risk youth foster a love for reading and writing.

Visit Susan at her website: and on Twitter at @SusanMeissner or at


My Impressions:

I had a copy of The Last Year of The War on my TBR shelf for well over a year before I opened its pages. Life and other reading obligations kept me from beginning, but once I did I could not put it down! This WWII-era novel opened up a world I knew little about — the internment of German and Japanese-Americans deemed enemy aliens. Susan Meissner chose well to tell their story through the innocent eyes of a very American teenager from Davenport, Iowa. Elise Sontag tells of her bewildering upheaval giving the novel a first person perspective informed by all she has learned in her life. This is a novel not to be missed. It is very highly recommended.

The history surrounding The Last Year of The War is fascinating. Viewed from the 21st century, the round-up of people who had lived in the US for decades, including their American-born children, seems unbelievable. But as I read, I could see parallels in today’s society that gave me pause. Those who found themselves in the dry, hot, and very brown south Texas camp would never have conceived of such a thing just months before. Elise’s family finds themselves in Crystal City awaiting the end of the war so they can resume their very ordinary lives. But they and the reader soon learn that nothing will ever be the same. Meissner’s detailed descriptions took me from the dusty streets of the camp to a bombed and beaten Germany. I felt just like Elise, unbelieving that Americans could have endured such things. Identity and belonging are recurring themes throughout the novel, and not just for Elise. WWII brought new perspectives for many.

The Last Year of The War is a complex novel with well-drawn characters that isn’t easily left behind after the last page is turned. This is a must-read for anyone who is interested in this little known aspect of WWII, but more so for those who want a book they can become a part of. For avid readers, you know what I mean. 😉 It is also a great book for discussion — your book club will thank you for the suggestion.

Very Highly Recommended.

Great for Book Clubs.

Audience: adults.

(I received a complimentary copy from the publisher. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)


One Response to “Book Review: The Last Year of The War”

  1. carhicks August 14, 2020 at 9:10 am #

    I read this book earlier this year on the recommendation of another blogger and I can’t agree with your comments more. It was very good, but it seems we did not learn from history. Great review.

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