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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Wisconsin chapter.

A story for sisters, women and anyone who needs to feel brave

***contains small spoilers***

While historical fiction is not everyone’s first pick, it will always be one of my favorites. I am constantly surprised by an author’s ability to go back in time and place characters in a world they were not part of themselves. The amount of research that goes into historical fiction impresses me time and time again. Novels set during some of the world’s toughest times pull on my heart in a way that feels unexplainable. To read about a fictional character with fictional feelings yet knowing there once was someone experiencing those very real feelings, makes me feel indescribably sad yet inspired. This feeling was no different while reading The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. This historical fiction novel has made its way into my top reads of the year. Hannah takes the reader on a journey of love, loss, war and the importance of sisterhood. 

The Nightingale takes place in France during World War II. Germany is beginning to invade France and citizens must learn how to survive the Nazi occupation. The story follows two sisters, Isabelle and Vianne. The two sisters have been separated for some time, but after Isabelle is kicked out of her newest school, she goes to stay with her estranged sister. Almost immediately when Isabelle arrives, Germany invades France. Nazis start coming to their small town and posting Nazi soldiers in the homes of citizens. Once the seriousness of the situation dawns on the sisters, they realize how endangered they and most of France are. However, the two of them have very different ideas of how this should be handled. Isabelle believes she should go out and find a way to fight whereas Vianne believes it is her responsibility to stay home, keep her daughter safe and trust that things will work out. The rest of the novel switches between Isabelle going out and becoming a secret messenger for an activist group while Vianne stays in her town and tries to survive. 

Isabelle and Vianne have a classic big-sister, little-sister dynamic. Isabelle is wild, unpredictable and seen as brave. Vianne is responsible, rule-following and more timid. Their relationship is long, complex and heavy for both of them. This dynamic creates a tension between the two of them that I think most sisters can relate to. It is this feeling almost like jealousy, where you so badly want to be like someone else but it just isn’t who you are. There is something especially painful about jealousy between a sister. You come from the same family; how could you be so different? In The Nightingale, Vianne wishes so badly that she could be brave like Isabelle. Isabelle wishes she could be more steady like Vianne. Kristin Hannah has a way of making this sister relationship so incredibly painful as the sisters watch each other and desperately wish they could become the other. She further pulls on the heartstrings of sisters as we watch Vianne and Isabelle fight, hurt each other, make up and save each other. They brutally butt heads but also so deeply love each other. This tension is so apparent in the writing and made me think deeply about the relationships I have with my own sisters. How much are we the same? How are we different? It made me remember how much I love my sisters. 

Hannah takes us not only on a journey of biological sisters but also of the sisterhood of friendships. Through Vianne and Isabelle’s friendships throughout the novel, Hannah is showing the strength of womanhood. At one point, Vianne begins taking in children of Jewish mothers who have been sent to the camps. While this was no easy task, Vianne does it without hesitation. There is a banning together of the women in the town that goes without saying. She also shows this through Isabelle’s friendships as they save each other over and over again. 

Even if you don’t have sisters, The Nightingale will still speak to you. I’m sure of it. One of the most prominent themes in this novel is bravery and how we all have different ways of expressing it. There is loud bravery, and there is quiet bravery. We need both. Vianne works in a shy way, doing things behind the scenes whereas Isabelle is putting herself out there with action-filled work. There is often a misconception that to make a difference you must be loud. Hannah takes this misconception and throws it out. She shows that there is not one best way to help or make a change. Through Vianne she is telling us “it is okay if your voice is quiet”. 

The Nightingale is a passionate narrative about what it was like to be a woman during this time. Hannah does not shy away from talking about the painful reality women lived in with their husbands gone, Nazis posted in their homes and a complete lack of control over themselves. It dives deep into the loss and grief of war, what it means to be brave and the immense strength that comes with sisterhood. 

Mckenna Laurent

Wisconsin '25

Mckenna is a Junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is studying English literature. Along with being a section editor for Her Campus, she is a Senior Coordinator for the University Tutoring Service. Mckenna loves reading, baking, and watching New Girl!