Blog Tour Review: Safe by Vanessa Harbour

Safe is the sequel to Flight, both of which are incredibly powerful, heartfelt historical adventures set in the last days of WWII.  I was utterly gripped, often in tears and in awe of, the courage, resilience and empathy shown by children who are displaced by war and fighting to survive, building connections, trust and friendship, and daring for hope and a home in the midst of the heart-breaking cruelty and loss that they have suffered due to war and persecution. 

Kizzy and Jakob, the two young protagonists from Flight are now living with their guardian Heinz in the schloss owned by the countess who has welcomed them and the Spanish Riding School into her home.  Whilst Jakob is following his dream of becoming a professional rider, Kizzy is unwillingly being moulded into the young lady the countess thinks she should become.  Frustrated by the restrictions placed upon her, she is torn between the safety and comfort of a home with her found family, and being allowed the freedom that she needs to be herself and follow her dreams. 

Before she is forced to make a difficult decision, Heinz offers Kizzy and Jakob the opportunity to undertake a secret project to rescue some rare breed Czechoslovakian horses and bring them back to their stables in Austria, a mission which they accept.  After a precarious car journey where they witness the brutality of war, they arrive at the stables, only to face betrayal, hatred and bullets, barely managing to escape.

Whilst preparing a plan to get the horses to safety, they make an incredible discovery … a group of lost children have been hiding out in the hayloft, children who have been displaced by the war and who have lost their family and homes.  Like Kizzy and Jakob, who are Roma and Jewish, these are children who belong to groups who suffered the tyranny of the Nazis:  Roma, disabled and those who helped groups being persecuted.  Jakob and Kizzy are determined to bring both these Gerfunden Kinder and the horses to safety in Austria …

And so begins an incredible, courageous journey through forest and across mountain as this band of children face their fears and the constant threat of danger.  Will Kizzy and Jakob be able to keep both children and horses safe?   Can they keep their hopes of everyone reaching home alive, despite the many obstacles they face? 

The journey which the children take is a twofold one, both physical through an often-hostile environment, and cathartic as they open up to each other about their harrowing ordeals through their shared experiences, and build bonds of friendship and family.  

The empathetic and heart-breaking portrayal of what the children witness in war, and their subsequent pain, grief and sense of loss, is both powerful and poignant and, as a teacher, I can really appreciate the discussions which this can open up with a class both linked to a World War II topic and to the current displacement of children due to wars. 

Kizzy and Jakob formed a strong bond of friendship in Flight and this continues in Safe.  Whilst they might tease, argue and disagree over some things, they clearly care for each other; their relationship feels wonderfully genuine.  They belong to groups persecuted by the Nazis:  Jakob is Jewish and Kizzy is Roma, and both have lost their families, and have found family with their guardian, Heinz.  They both adore horses and feel that they have the right to be safe and free too.  The horses are a special part of this story, and I really loved the connection between these beautiful animals and both children. 

This story is focussed on Kizzy and I felt that I really got to know her: her indomitable spirit, resilience, resourcefulness and kindness; her need to provide for the others’ honouring her Roma heritage; her love for her found family; and, her desire to be true to herself.

Safe is a truly outstanding story of endurance, friendship and hope against the odds … a highly recommended and must-read for children of 10+.

Thank you to Firefly Press for inviting me to be part of the Blog Tour, and for providing me with a proof copy in exchange for my honest opinion. Please do check out the other stops on the Blog Tour, details below:

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