In Pamela Schoenewaldt’s latest novel,Under the Same Blue Sky, she seeks to bring social injustice to light through the eyes of quiet but defiant heroine Hazel Renner. As the daughter of German immigrants, she is raised with the benefit of a rich cultural heritage and a love for learning. But she is also saddled with the expectations of her doting parents–they expect great things out of her. Perhaps she should become a physician, her mother posits. Yet Hazel wants more out of life. She longs to escape the industrial landscape of Pittsburgh and join the artistic avant garde of early 20th-century Paris. But then World War I breaks out and her dreams are dashed. Almost overnight, Hazel’s parents become “Huns” and their successful hardware business is the target of shameful vandalism.
For Hazel, the war is the impetus she needs to unravel the truth of her birth and strange childhood memories. This journey leads her first to serve as a teacher in a small town outside Pittsburgh. There she encounters a Spanish American War veteran with mental problems. Through the lens of modern science, the reader can see that the man suffers from PTSD. Yet he is cruelly segregated from local society and ends up the victim of his own inner demons and the townspeople’s prejudices.
Later, Hazel becomes the secretary of a wealthy German aristocrat turned art dealer. As they work to rescue priceless items from the Motherland, she has the opportunity to fall in love with an old friend. But her happiness is short-lived as her employer is ridiculed and reviled for his ancestry, her father is claimed by the deep depression he experiences, and her lover becomes a pilot for the American Armed Forces. Hazel’s inner strength shines through these challenges. The reader is impressed with the notion that Hazel is truly good without being saccharine; she bears the weight of those around her with quiet fortitude, but still longs for true happiness amidst the strife. Her journey takes her far from her fretful beginnings. The end result is not what she pictured, but Hazel learns that empathy and love, in spite of the circumstances, can conquer all things.
Under the Same Blue Sky is wonderful, moving novel (I cried) that takes a whole new look at a setting that is familiar in the historical fiction world. I highly recommend it.
**This review is an excerpt from a feature article that I wrote for the Historical Novel Review.