Review: They Went Left by Monica Hesse

Let me set the scene.

I am reading the final chapter of They Went Left by Monica Hesse at the kitchen table. Tears are trickling from my eyes when suddenly my mom bursts out laughing from the kitchen. She says watching me read a book is nothing short of a comedy show.

… thanks, Mom.

I sacrificed my dignity and my dinner time to finish They Went Left, and it was so, so, so worth it.

Title & Author: They Went Left by Monica Hesse

Genre: Young adult, historical fiction

Publication: April 2020 at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Format: E-book

First Impressions: A story of healing? Mystery? Beautiful and strange and magnetic all at once? I’m in.

After the war, after the liberation, after more than 6 million European Jews have been murdered: Zofia Lederman stumbles out of a hospital, determined to keep the promise she made to her little brother, Abek, the last time they saw each other — that she would find him, and together, they would fill their alphabet, A to Z. Zofia journeys through the European continent, and finds herself in a displaced persons camp in Germany, where she meets people who, like her, are struggling to piece themselves back together. As her search for Abek becomes more and more desperate, Zofia is forced to re-examine her own mind and memories, where the most awful truths may be hiding.

I think we must find miracles where we can. We must love the people in front of us. We must forgive ourselves for the things we did to survive. The things we broke. The things that broke us.

Abby the Bookworm

Rating: 5 out of 5.

If you’re looking for an action-packed war story, you’ve come to the wrong place.

They Went Left shows us the after of World War II. They Went Left gives us a glimpse of after the end, after the pain, and reveals to us that after could become the beginning of something completely new.

Zofia is an unreliable narrator. She unwinds her tangled memories and thoughts right alongside the reader as the mystery unfolds. Her trauma is beautifully rendered through Hesse’s prose. Her writing is so raw and poetic and heavy and gripping and just so unbelievably tangible. If I ever become a writer someday, I would hope to write like Hesse does.

Please let them just steal my things and not beat me. Please let them just beat me and not rape me. Please let them just rape me and not kill me. Please kill me. Please just kill me. Why not; how else will this ever be over?

Although there are mentions of past torture and violence, there are no graphic scenes in this book, nor is it very gory. The action of this book lies within Zofia’s mind.

The plot twists — both the happy ones and the devastating ones — were punches in the gut. In that aspect, They Went Left is a very exhausting book.

The people Zofia meets at Foehrenwald and along her journey are individually so real in their suffering and their hopes. The nameless old man on the train, Inge, Breine, Miriam, Esther, Chaim, Hannelore, and so many more.

And Josef. Ah, Josef. The romance is heartbreaking, and yet exactly what it needs to be.


I’ll admit it. I fell. I fell hard for Josef and Zofia. I assumed an extremely painful past for Josef, and they seemed to deserve each other in their grief and trauma. Until Monica Hesse decided that ruining my OTP, smashing it, and running over its remnants with a tractor would be a good idea for my heart.


Josef should have told Zofia earlier that he was part of the German army, and he most definitely should have never presumed that he knew the pain the people at Foehrenwald had gone through. But wow, that ending hurt. A lot. I still hope he learns to forgive himself and finds someone with whom he will not be ashamed of showing his true self to.


I think about him more than I wish I did. I wonder where he is and if there’s a world in which I’d see him again.

They Went Left is a book that changes you. It makes you want to use everything you have in you to ensure that nothing like the Holocaust ever happens again. Zofia and Abek and Foehrenwald will take hold of you and stay with you for days and weeks and so much longer.

Abby the Christian Bookworm: LOVE

What can I say, faced with the horrors of the Holocaust and World War II?

This world needs more love.

1 Corinthians 13:6-8: Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

Keep reading,


How about you? Have you read They Went Left? Is it on your TBR?

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