The Hours Count by Jillian Cantor

(No Series)

A spellbinding historical novel about a woman who befriends Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, and is drawn into their world of intrigue, from the author of Margot.

On June 19, 1953, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were executed for conspiring to commit espionage. The day Ethel was first arrested in 1950, she left her two young sons with a neighbor, and she never came home to them again. Brilliantly melding fact and fiction, Jillian Cantor reimagines the life of that neighbor, and the life of Ethel and Julius, an ordinary-seeming Jewish couple who became the only Americans put to death for spying during the Cold War.

A few years earlier, in 1947, Millie Stein moves with her husband, Ed, and their toddler son, David, into an apartment on the eleventh floor in Knickerbocker Village on New York’s Lower East Side. Her new neighbors are the Rosenbergs. Struggling to care for David, who doesn’t speak, and isolated from other “normal” families, Millie meets Jake, a psychologist who says he can help David, and befriends Ethel, also a young mother. Millie and Ethel’s lives as friends, wives, mothers, and neighbors entwine, even as chaos begins to swirl around the Rosenbergs and the FBI closes in. Millie begins to question her own husband’s political loyalty and her marriage, and whether she can trust Jake and the deep connection they have forged as they secretly work with David. Caught between these two men, both of whom have their own agendas, and desperate to help her friends, Millie will find herself drawn into the dramatic course of history.

As Millie—trusting and naive—is thrown into a world of lies, intrigue, spies and counterspies, she realizes she must fight for what she believes, who she loves, and what is right.

The Hours Count is a historical, fiction novel about another viewpoint into Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. Instead of being told through their points of view, it's told through an outsider's head, the neighbor and friend Millie Stein.

Millie is likeable enough, even if her intelligence wouldn't win any awards. She's with a horrible husband I'd end up murdering in my sleep, has a sweet child who would be considered autistic today, and kind of goes through life trying to find herself. Her one friend, Ethel, is a solace in time of trouble; they share the joys and pains of motherhood, bringing forth a realistic struggle books aren't always honest about.

The book skips around slightly - from the time of the Rosenberg's trial and execution - back to present day woes and adventures of Millie. It's done subtly and sparingly, so this doesn't get annoying or confusing.

Jillian Cantor's writing style is wonderful. She is able to portray the motivations and personalities of all well, even though it's a first person POV. Millie is made sympathetic, where the author paints a picture of a struggling young woman trying to adapt to a world that isn't always friendly.

Overall the story isn't so much about the Rosenbergs - it's about love, motherhood, women banding together for their families, trusting the wrong people, and how fear molds horrors in our society. There's some surprises along the way, things that keep a reader turning the page, but overall it's a character painting that holds true.

I know little about the Rosenbergs and that time period, it's not something I've researched much. The author goes in with her view that Ethel was likely innocent, and backs this up with some research at the end showing why she feels this way. Whether she's right or not, this wouldn't surprise me, as fear has painted many shadows over the innocent before.

Thanks to Penguin's First to Read program for an ARC of this stunning book.