For Freedom: The Story of a French Spy
This book has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
The year is 1940. Thirteen-year-old Suzanne David attends a convent boarding school in Cherbourg, France. Her parents and two older brothers live in the village, and she goes home to them each weekend. She loves to sing and takes voice lessons from Madame Marcelle. While Suzanne and her friend Yvette know a war is raging, they’ve seen little evidence of it so far. The news reports that Hitler and his men are marching through France, but Cherbourg has remained quiet.
One day, Suzanne and Yvette get permission to go into town to do homework and enjoy the beach. They come across a friend, a pregnant woman named Madame Montagne, and her young son. As they’re talking, bombs from planes overhead begin to explode all around them. When the smoke clears, the girls see a decapitated Madame Montagne and the dead body of her unborn child. The frightened girls rush back to the convent, where worried nuns call the doctor. Suzanne’s mother, Maman, comforts her as the doctor removes numerous shards of glass from her body.
Yvette fails to return to school in the days that follow, and Suzanne finally goes to visit her home. Yvette has experienced an emotional breakdown. She won’t speak, and she seems not to see or hear others. Suzanne continues to visit regularly. When the Germans occupy Cherbourg, they take over Suzanne’s family’s beautiful home. The family must relocate to a dingy, run-down flat. Suzanne’s parents warn the kids to follow the rules and watch what they say in public, lest the Germans are watching.
Some time later, the family learns the German barricades have been removed from their street, and the soldiers have vacated their house. They enter their home to find that everything they owned has been removed or destroyed. The foul stench of human waste permeates the house. It takes time, but they clean the house and add some furnishings.
The holidays are bleak with few of the treats they enjoyed in years past. The one time that Papa comes home with a piece of fresh beef, a cat gets hold of it and drags it from their house. They catch him, but the beef has been gnawed and drug through the dirt. They wash and eat it, but the experience is a disappointment.
Madame Marcelle says Suzanne is finally ready to perform in operas. Suzanne wins lead roles and travels often. A cut in her arm becomes infected because medicines are unavailable due to the war. Dr. Leclerc tells her he will have to drain the abscess, even though he has nothing with which to deaden the pain. He gives her half a glass of the only alcohol he has left and makes the painful incision.
When she returns to get the stitches removed, she again demonstrates her toughness by refusing to cry. Dr. Leclerc pulls her aside and tells her he needs a tough young woman like herself to serve as a spy for the French Resistance. The doctor explains the seriousness of her task. If the Nazis catch her, she will be killed.
Offering up a prayer for strength, she agrees to help. The doctor permits her to tell Madame Marcelle, who always travels with her. The teacher doesn’t want to hear many details, for her safety and Suzanne’s. She urges the girl to put as much truth as possible into her lies so she won’t get caught.
Suzanne often pretends to return to the doctor for her arm and other health problems. He gives her coded messages, which she hides in her hair or the hollowed-out heel of her shoe. Passing the notes is often terrifying. She delivers them to people she only knows by the numbers they’ve been assigned. Suzanne’s opera career is taking off. While singing brings her joy, she is regularly haunted by nightmares of what could happen to her or her family if she’s caught spying.
While singing a particularly difficult piece in an opera in Paris, Suzanne loses her voice. Dr. Leclerc says her vocal chords are badly damaged. On another note, he says, he has several messages for her to deliver. Her delivery load increases to several messages a day.
Suzanne knows something important must be happening in the war. Her frequent activity makes her even more fearful the Germans will notice her. One afternoon, several Germans storm the salon where she is getting her hair cut and take her to jail for questioning.
Although German officers grill her for hours, she reveals nothing of her spying activity. She learns the doctor and most of the other spies have been captured or killed. The next day, as another officer questions her, a soldier rushes in and frantically yells in German. The officer runs down the hall, and Suzanne hears many other footsteps.
After a few minutes, silence follows. Suzanne steps into the hallway to see the building has been vacated. She finds one other man, a French spy like herself, who informs her that the Allies are invading Normandy and ending the war. She returns home and is finally able to tell her family about her spying activities.
In an epilogue, Suzanne learns her messages contained logistical details the Allies needed to prepare for their invasion. She meets and receives a high honor from General Charles de Gualle. She says Madame Marcelle died in Italy a few years later and her friend, Yvette, never recovered.
Suzanne married an American soldier named Larson Hall and moved with him to Tennessee. They went on to have children and grandchildren. Suzanne never performed opera again. She says she often tried to forget the things she experienced during the war, but now she wants to share them so others will understand what happened.
Suzanne attends a convent school where the students learn catechism. She prays often for different people, including her brothers and Yvette. She prays Madame Montagne’s young son will survive the bombing.
As she sings Bach’s Magnificat, she recalls part of the Bible story of Jesus’s birth. She is haunted by the image of the dead baby she’s seen. She tells herself there has to be a heaven to make up for the horrible things people sometimes do on earth.
Suzanne tells the unresponsive Yvette that Madame Montagne’s baby will go to heaven, even though it wasn’t baptized, because it died before it was truly born. Suzanne says Madame Montagne’s baptism will count for the baby, too. When Suzanne expresses her anger at Madame Montagne’s death, her father reminds her that everyone’s lives belong to the Lord.
Suzanne struggles to pray prayers of thanks when their food supply includes little more than rutabagas. She kneels and tries to pray honestly, asking God to watch out for her family and to help her sing and make her strong. She repeats the prayer for strength often.
She also prays it when the doctor secretly invites her to be a spy for the Resistance. Afterward, she feels a wave of calm rush over her. She prays for help recognizing her message recipients, and she prays when she is captured.
Another spy in a church chats with Suzanne about the 23rd Psalm before quietly revealing her ID number. Papa gets angry with Suzanne for not attending Mass with the family and says that sin will be on her conscience. Characters refer to Hitler as the son of Satan.
Other Belief Systems
A few times, Suzanne prays to Mary to give her strength.
The Lord’s name is used in vain. Suzanne and Yvette discover the bloody, decapitated body of their friend, Madame Montagne. The woman’s stomach has been ripped open and her dead, unborn baby lies beside her, soaked in blood.
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Persecution: The Nazis abduct and persecute the Jews. They even burn books written by Jews. Yvette is further disturbed when black neighbors go missing. She learns Hitler also hates people with dark skin.
Smoking: Cigarette rations are difficult on smokers like Suzanne’s father.
For Freedom is the fictionalized story of a real woman, Suzanne David Hall.
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Readability Age Range
9 to 13
Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Dell Laurel-Leaf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House Inc.
IRA Teacher’s Choice Award, 2004; Amelia Bloomer Book List, 2004 and others