Girl in the Blue Coat Summary & Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 36-page guide for “Girl in the Blue Coat” by Monica Hesse includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 34 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Transformations During Wartime and The Conflict of Love and Friendship.
Monica Hesse’s 2016 novel Girl in the Blue Coat was the winner of the Edgar Award for best YA Mystery. Its events take place during two weeks in January 1943, during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam. The narrator, Hanneke Bakker, is an 18-year-old who lost her boyfriend, Sebastian “Bas” Van de Kamp, two years before the events of the novel. As far as her parents know, Hanneke works as a receptionist for an undertaker, Mr. Kreuk; she is also secretly his assistant in procuring and distributing black market goods. When one of their customers asks Hanneke to help her locate a missing Jewish girl, Hanneke must work through her feelings about Bas as she decides whether or not to help.
At the outset of the novel, Hanneke feels permanently changed by Bas’s death; she is no longer the carefree, optimistic spirit she was when her boyfriend was at her side, and she now feels personally responsible for his death. Her best friend, Elsbeth, is also lost to her, not by death, but as a result of her new marriage to a member of the Gestapo. Now, Hanneke trusts no one, and hopes that in return, no one will trust her either. However, when the widow Mrs. Janssen confesses that she has been hiding a young Jewish girl, Mirjam Roodveldt—and that Mirjam has gone missing—Hanneke is haunted by the idea that Bas would have immediately come to her aid. She tentatively agrees to help.
As Hanneke searches for photographs and information about Mirjam, she meets Judith, a secretary at the Jewish Lyceum. Judith happens to be a friend of Ollie Van de Kamp, Bas’s older brother, and Hanneke soon finds herself pulled into their group. Although she first believes they are merely a supper club, she soon learns that they are active members of the resistance, and that they want her help. Judith introduces Hanneke to her younger cousin, Mina, a classmate of Mirjam’s and an employee at the nursery where Jewish children are kept while awaiting deportation. Hanneke begins to see young Mina’s participation in the resistance first-hand, from placing Jewish children with adoptive families to taking secret photographs of the German occupation. She is impressed by Mina’s bravery, and by Ollie’s other friends.
Hanneke learns that Mirjam had a boyfriend, “T,” and a best friend, Amalia. She sees a parallel between Mirjam’s life and her own, and follows several leads based on her own experience and expectations. However, before she can find her, Mirjam is picked up by the Nazi police and brought to the Hollandsche Schouwburg Theater, which is now a deportation center. When Ollie and his friends discover that Mina’s hidden camera is also in the theater, they agree to help Hanneke try and rescue the girl. Hanneke breaks into Elsbeth’s house to steal her husband’s uniform, and with the help of Ollie, Willem, and Judith, she makes a plan.
In an emotional conversation before their planned rescue, Ollie tells Hanneke that Bas’s death is not her fault. A letter Bas gave to Ollie reveals that he loved Hanneke, and had resolved to fight for his country. Moreover, he hoped that she would move on. Then, Ollie disguises himself as a Gestapo officer and stops the transport towards the train station. He is able to retrieve the camera. However, when Hanneke finds the girl in the blue coat, the girl she believes to be Mirjam, that girl runs away and is shot. Hanneke mourns her death, crying for the first time in two years in a moment of intense catharsis. She then breaks the bad news to Mrs. Janssen, and together, along with Ollie and Willem, they bury her.
However, the day of the funeral, Hanneke has a bicycling accident and injures herself, which leads her to remember that Mirjam Roodveldt had a scar from an accident that tore her blue coat. However, the corpse she dressed had smooth knees. She begins to investigate the possibility that the girl in the blue coat was not Mirjam, and finally locates a picture of the girls together. She thus discovers that it was Amalia whom she buried: the two must have switched papers. Next, she learns from Christoffel, Mrs. Janssen’s errand boy, that he knew the whole story all along: Amalia and Mirjam met in the street after the murder of Mirjam’s family, and Amalia insisted they exchange papers. She then went to Mrs. Janssen’s, where she spoke to Christoffel, nicknamed “Tof,” who snuck her out and let her stay with him. He was the “T” of the girls’ letters all along, and he kicked Amalia out of his home when she told him a secret. Grieving and guilty, he does not reveal this secret to Hanneke.
In search of the full story, Hanneke goes to visit Mirjam, who has been living with Amalia’s aunt in Kijkduin. Mirjam tells her that Amalia gave away her family’s whereabouts while complaining to her uncle that Christoffel preferred a girl in hiding to Amalia herself. Mirjam forgives her friend, believing that she was trying her best. Mirjam’s perspective helps Hanneke come to peace with her own actions, as well as Bas and Elsbeth’s. She finally feels she will be able to move on.