They Went Left|Hesse, Monica
They Went Left
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The New York Times bestselling, Sydney Taylor Honor winning, critically acclaimed tour de force historical mystery from Monica Hesse, author of Girl in the Blue Coat

Germany, 1945.
The soldiers who liberated the Gross-Rosen concentration camp said the war was over, but nothing feels over to eighteen-year-old Zofia Lederman. Her body has barely begun to heal, her mind feels broken. And her life is completely shattered: Three years ago, she and her younger brother, Abek, were the only members of their family to be sent to the right, away from the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Everyone else--her parents, her grandmother, radiant Aunt Maja--they went left. Zofia's last words to her brother were a promise: Abek to Zofia, A to Z. When I find you again, we will fill our alphabet. Now her journey to fulfill that vow takes her through Poland and Germany, and into a displaced persons camp where everyone she meets is trying to piece together a future from a painful past: Miriam, desperately searching for the twin she was separated from after they survived medical experimentation. Breine, a former heiress, who now longs only for a simple wedding with her new fianc . And Josef, who guards his past behind a wall of secrets, and is beautiful and strange and magnetic all at once.

But the deeper Zofia digs, the more impossible her search seems. How can she find one boy in a sea of the missing? In the rubble of a broken continent, Zofia must delve into a mystery whose answers could break her--or help her rebuild her world.


  • ISBN-13: 9780316490573
  • ISBN-10: 0316490571
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
  • Publish Date: April 2020

They Went Left

The aftermath of World War II is rarely addressed in YA fiction. Narratives typically conclude with scenes of liberation and celebration as good triumphs over evil, and everything returns to normal. Monica Hesse’s They Went Left begins where those narratives end. 

Zofia’s story opens in 1945, a few months after she and thousands of others were liberated from concentration camps and sent back into the world to reclaim what they lost. For Zofia—who witnessed her entire family except her little brother, Abek, being sent into the titular left line that led to the camp’s gas chambers—this is not a simple or easy task.

Zofia is broken, physically and mentally, and has spent the months after liberation in a hospital. She clings to the memory of her final goodbye to Abek, and to the promise she made in that moment that she would find him after the war. Released from the hospital, Zofia returns to her family’s home, only to discover that all of their possessions are gone and their neighbors are openly hostile to the idea of Jewish families reclaiming their residences. Desperate, Zofia sets out across war-torn Europe to find Abek while trying to piece together the truth behind her memories.

They Went Left takes readers deep into Zofia’s thoughts, pulling us along through her experiences, past and present, even as she begins to wonder whether she can trust her own perceptions and memories. Hesse’s meticulous research is evident on every page but never distracts from her propulsive plot. 

Combining history, romance and mystery, They Went Left is a heartbreaking yet hopeful story of what it takes to survive after trauma.