Becoming Clementine

By Jennifer Niven
Published on September 25 2012
Published by Plume
Source: e-ARC from publisher
After delivering a B-17 Flying Fortress to Britain, an American volunteers to copilot a plane carrying special agents to their drop spot over Normandy. Her personal mission: to find her brother, who is missing in action. Their plane is shot down, and only she and five agents survive. Now they are on the run for their lives.

As they head to Paris, the beautiful aviatrix Velva Jean Hart becomes Clementine Roux, a daring woman on an epic adventure with her team to capture an operative known only as "Swan." Once settled on Rue de la Néva, Clementine works as a spy with the Resistance and finds herself falling in love with her fellow agent, Émile, a handsome and mysterious Frenchman with secrets of his own. When Clementine ends up in the most brutal prison in Paris, trying to help Émile and the team rescue Swan, she discovers the depths of human cruelty, the triumph of her own spirit, and the bravery of her team, who will stop at nothing to carry out their mission.
I've had this book (e-)sitting around to read for a while now, but I promised myself I wouldn't do it until I could keep myself from comparing it to Code Name Verity, which is also about women pilots and spies in World War II.  Other than a few surface type similarities, the books are nothing alike, and it wasn't fair to Becoming Clementine if I read it expecting it to be something it wasn't.

Anyhow, months and months later I finally got over myself and was so glad that I did, because this is a very touching story.  I got a little choked up more than once, and I also pulled a "stay up until 1 am finishing the book" thing, too, because I needed to know how it ended.  Becoming Clementine is actually the third in a series of novels about Velva Jean Hart, but it works very well as a stand-alone.  I've never read any of the other books and had no problems diving right in.  Enough of her backstory is explained throughout the book, and Velva Jean herself is a very strong character, so you have no problem getting an idea of who she is or where she's come from.

I really loved this book.  Velva Jean is a woman who knows herself and knows what she wants.  The first two books in the series apparently cover her coming-of-age, showing from how she went from being a little girl in North Carolina to a poised, fearless woman flying across the ocean.  She proves herself time and time again to not be a burden like many of the men in the war think she is going to be.  She is smart, resourceful, and resilient even in the face of great danger.  She has a great narrative voice as she speaks to her inner thoughts, her greatest fears, her secrets while she is posing as Clementine in France.  I do wish that she had more to do; she spends a lot of time hiding and waiting for things to happen, but I also suspect that's what life was really like then -- a lot of waiting and hiding in plain sight.

The romance in this book is realistic, especially considering that there's a war on and that everyone's lives are in danger all the time.  I might have had different thoughts on it had I read either of the previous books and knew more about Velva Jean's prior love interests, but I thought Emile was an interesting character, even if he kept his feelings buried deep down inside.  I actually have a lot of feelings on the romance and how things are left at the end of the book, but as they're spoilers, I'll keep them to myself.

Although this book is not marketed as YA, I didn't feel like it was that different in tone or content from what we've come to expect from most contemporary YA books.  There is a lot of profanity and war-related violence/injuries, and some kissing.  (Anything steamier is alluded to but not described.)  I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to read about a strong female character who goes through a lot but never loses herself in the process.  I plan on seeking out the other books in this series and will keep an eye out for follow-up novels in the future!

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