The Dynamite Room

Written by Jason Hewitt
Review by Alana White

July 1940. In the high heat of summer, eleven-year-old Lydia walks alone down a dusty road to her English village and finds the place deserted. Disquieted, she continues homeward with her suitcase bumping her leg and the box for her gas mask swinging from her shoulder. Greyfriars is empty, but Lydia settles in to wait for her family’s return. And then that night, she wakes to the creak of footsteps in the house.

It is a wounded Nazi soldier who did not expect to find anyone here, certainly not Lydia, who is a runaway from Wales, where she had been sent as an evacuee. A German invasion is coming, he says. They must prepare Greyfriars for the next arrivals. He will not hurt her if she does as he says. Break the rules, and he will shoot her. Thus, their cautious relationship begins: a cat-and-mouse game wherein she tiptoes past him while he explores Greyfriars, searching for… what? When they are in separate rooms, Heiden feels Lydia “crouching behind the door, listening to him listening to her,” though neither makes a sound. They, and we, feel the pulse of the house breathing as this wonderful, thoroughly original story unfolds. What is our German soldier about? What brought him here, and how does he know so much about Lydia’s absent family? 

In The Dynamite Room, novelist Jason Hewitt weaves a spellbinding tale to linger over and savor, looping back and drawing us forward to a conclusion that is equally heartbreaking and beautiful. Long listed for the Desmond Elliott Prize (2014) and a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick of 2015, this gripping first novel is a book for the ages, so engaging and well written, I did not want it to end. Very highly recommended.