Lovers of historical fiction should run not walk to pick up this little gem of a novel. Exclusively told through handwritten letters, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a story of love, community, and resilience.
There are essentially two major plots: the present tale of Juliet Ashton slowly falling in love with Guernsey, and Dawsey Adams, and the heartbreaking story of the five year German occupation of Guernsey in World War II. As the tale unfolds, readers are given a peak into a forgotten, tragic piece of history.
As is clear by my love for Matilda and Series of Unfortunate Events, few things bring me as much joy as a book about books. Our protagonist, Juliet, is a true bibliophile, and this is perhaps how the story truly begins. Only a genuine lover of literature could justify owning 2 copies of the same book, and it’s this that causes her to sell a duplicate copy of Essays of Elia by Charles Lamb that eventually makes its way to Dawsey Adams on the Channel Island of Guernsey.
I knew I would love this book fairly early on when Juliet writes to Dawsey, “Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true.”
Its her innate, pure love of books that draws her to the story of Guernsey’s Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a group of Guernsey residents that are the very definition of “found family”. This group was formed during the German occupation, both a source of comfort during a time of famine and loss and a secret rebellion against their enemy.
It’s Juliet’s desire to learn more about this group of misfits that leads her to visit Guernsey, where she discovers a loving community that each hold a special connection to a mysterious Elizabeth McKenna. After being arrested for giving food and shelter to an escaped Island prisoner, Elizabeth had not been heard from since the War ended. Still, everyone held onto hope that would find her way home to her daughter, a beautiful girl named Kit that Dawsey has largely taken responsibility for.
Through letters of the Society members, and eventually stories told in Society meetings, Juliet learns of Elizabeth’s many acts of bravery and kindness. It is in her spirit that Juliet discovers her own inner strength, finally admitting that Guernsey, along with Dawsey and Kit, are her true home.
The slow-burn love story between Juliet and Dawsey was by no means a surprise, and yet I savored every single slow moment of it. Yet even more powerful was the love that develops between Juliet and each member of the Society. She forms a deep, lasting bond with everyone that has absolutely nothing to do with Dawsey. This highlighted even further that she wasn’t just “blinded by love for Dawsey”, but truly joining this loving community on her own merits.
A major theme of this book is one that I find myself constantly endeared to: the idea that family doesn’t necessarily doesn’t have to mean your blood relatives. Family are the people who love and sacrifice for you, the ones you love and would sacrifice anything for. The residents of Guernsey showed each other this gentle love and endless devotion and they struggled through five years of pure hell, sharing food, medicine, soap, books, laughter, and tears. It goes to show that so long as your heart remains open, you can always find your family, it just may not be in the places you expected.