Exciting New Titles for Adolescents
Ages 8 to 13
Aharon Appelfeld, the distinguished Israeli author and winner of prestigious awards for his adult novels, has written his first book for young readers, offering them a magical gift that gently touches mind and heart. Appelfeld—like Adam and Thomas, his eponymous young heroes—was a child of the forest. Orphaned by Nazi cruelty as an 8-year-old boy, he survived by wandering dense woodlands. His experiences inform the trials and tribulations of his young protagonists, 9-year-old classmates, who seek refuge from their Nazi pursuers amid the sheltering trees. Optimistic, soulful Adam is confident because, as his mother assured him, “he knows the forest and everything in it.” Nature offers them its miracles; berries assuage their hunger, and the treetop nests they create out of shrubs and branches offer them warmth and safety. Strangers gift them with kindness. Their shepherdess classmate, Mina, leaves them packages of food. An elderly peasant gives them sweet morsels and they, in turn, help wounded fugitives.
In Adam & Thomas (Translated by Jeffrey M. Green. Illustrated by Philippe Dumas. Triangle Square, 160 pp. $18.95), Appelfeld’s poetic soul and optimism shine forth on every page of this slender novel, which ends with the boys’ reunions with their mothers and the advent of the liberating Russian army. Green’s translation is effortless and Dumas’s drawings are touching.
In Catch You Later, Traitor (Algonquin Young Readers, 304 pp. $16.95 hardcover), Newberry Medal award winner Avi re-creates the world of 1951 Brooklyn in the voice of Pete, a seventh grader who loves mystery stories, baseball cards and radio serials but whose life is painfully interrupted by Senator Joseph McCarthy’s nefarious “red scare.” Pete is plunged into a dilemma that tests his loyalty to his family and his own commitment to truth and justice. Each chapter is laced with suspense as Avi, with authorial deftness, finds glimmers of light in a dark chapter of American history.
Emma Lazarus famously called the Statue of Liberty the Mother of Exiles, and indeed it became a surrogate mother to 12-year-old Sarah, whose father was killed in a pogrom in czarist Russia and whose mother died in an Ellis Island infirmary. Robert Sharenow tells Sarah’s dramatic story in The Girl in the Torch (Balzer & Bray, 304 pp. $16.99). He displays the same talent for suspenseful narrative thrust and attention to historic details that he demonstrated in his previous book, the justly acclaimed The Berlin Boxing Club (HarperTeen). Sarah’s desperate escape from deportation is accomplished by swimming to the Statue of Liberty and, however improbably, finding refuge in the torch. There, she is discovered by the night watchman who brings her to Chinatown. Her odyssey toward meaningful survival is hazardous but punctuated with the tender kindness and compassion of strangers. This skillful re-creation of the immigrant experience of a century past, with its message of hope and generosity, is particularly relevant today when immigration is a subject of increasing importance.
In The Choice by Kathy Clark (Second Story Press, 208 pp. $14.95), 13-year-old Hendrik, whose real name is Jakob, is a student at a Budapest Catholic school and has been cautioned by his parents not to reveal his Jewish identity. He, however, reveals his identity to his best friend, Ivan, the son of an Arrow Cross officer, a revelation that endangers both Hendrik and his entire family. Deported to Auschwitz, consumed with hatred for Ivan, he endures the agonies of imprisonment but is reintroduced to his Jewish faith. After a daring escape, he returns to a liberated Budapest and discovers that Ivan had made his own courageous choice and defied his own father to save Jakob’s family, aided by the legendary Raoul Wallenberg, the martyred savior of so many Hungarian Jews. Clark’s story is based on the experience of her own father and is an important addition to The Hol-ocaust Remembered Series for Young Readers.
Ages 12 and Up
In lyrical free verse, Melanie Crowder tells the compelling story of Clara Lemlich and her rigidly Orthodox family, who, after a brutal pogrom in their native Russia, flee to America. Audacity (Philomel, 389 pp. $17.99 hardcover) describes their arduous journey and the grim arrival that plunges them into a life of abject poverty, forcing Clara to work in horrific sweatshops while her brothers “pray and study.” She yearns for knowledge but, because her family is dependent on her meager wages, she is forced “to gather words like a squirrel hoarding nuts.” She joins the nascent International Ladies Garment Workers Union, enduring strikes, arrests, prison and the rejection of her own family. Her efforts culminate in the “Uprising,” as 20,000 women go on strike for their rights, ushering in a new era of social justice. Determined to “choose a man who wants a thinking wife” she is happily united with Joe Shavelson. Her happy ending is both inspiring and hard-earned. Crowder includes interesting interviews with Clara’s surviving family members as well as a glossary.
In Like Finding My Twin (illustrated by Tom Greensfelder; Gussie Rose Press, 56 pp. $17.99 paperback) Fern Schumer Chapman continues the true tale begun in her book Is It Night or Day? (Square Fish).That book told the story of her mother, Edith’s, escape from Nazi Germany at age 12, her shipboard friendship with a girl named Gerda Katz and their painful separation. The girls had pledged to always stay in touch, but circumstances intervened and they were lost to each other. Decades later, Chapman told her mother’s story to an 8th-grade class at Madison Junior High School in Naperville, Illinois, and the enterprising students, with the encouragement of teacher Celia O’Boyle, took on the challenge of finding Gerda Katz. Using the Internet, they located her, and the two long-lost friends were restored to each other.
Emily Winter, a mostly nonobservant Jewish girl (her parents “weren’t strictly kosher but they didn’t eat pork products”) at an upscale New York prep school, becomes a pariah when her best friend joins an anti-Semitic club oddly entitled The Anti-Clothes Girls League. When German Measles breaks out at the school, Cressida Whitcroft accuses the Jewish girls of spreading the disease, announcing that “in the 14th century, the Black Plague spread like wildfire and a certain group of people was accused of poisoning the wells be-cause they were just about the only ones who didn’t get it…. This German Measles epidemic affected the whole school except for certain girls.” Cressida’s ludicrous accusation is no less ludicrous than the book’s denouement, which has an improbable happy ending as Cressida and Emily work together on a paper on Jews in the Middle Ages jointly presented at the highly unlikely Bromley Anti-Prejudice Assembly. Author Martha Mendelsohn’s Bromley Girls (Texas Tech University Press, 192 pp. $14.95 paperback) touches on a number of situations, all achingly familiar to adolescent girls: anorexia, first dates, duplicitous friends, parental conflicts and awkward proms. Regrettably, however, Mendelsohn’s ambition is not matched by her narrative skill. The unfortunate Bromley girls and their dilemmas lack credibility.
The Hired Girl (Candlewick Press, 400 pp. $17.99 hardcover) by Laura Amy Schlitz, a Newberry medalist, introduces us to a brave 14-year-old runaway, Joan Skaggs, who in 1911 works for the Jewish Rosenbach family of Baltimore. Joan keeps a diary, recording her emerging relationships with the family; their housekeeper, Malka; and her cat, Tom (named for the Yiddish actor Boris Thomashevsky). Joan describes her introduction to the laws of kashrut and Shabbat, tzedaka and the dynamics of the Rosenbach parents and progeny, especially as they relate to her special friend, young David, who wants to become an artist. Her own yearning for education is realized when the family arranges for her attendance at a school they have organized and endowed, guaranteeing the fulfillment of her dreams. The story is very much Joan’s but it is also an insightful account of the Jewish community in Baltimore and their contribution to that city at the turn of the century.
Lilli’s Quest (Lizzie Skurnick Books, 216 pp. $18.95 hardcover, $12.95 paperback), Lila Perl’s moving sequel to her insightful novel Isabel’s War (Lizzie Skurnick Books), tells the story of Lilli Frankfurter, a half-Jewish girl caught up in the bewildering nightmare of Nazi Germany. With incredible resilience, she endures the terror of Kristallnacht; the trauma of the Kindertransport; and a horrific stay with an unkind, anti-Semitic English farm family. Finally, with great difficulty, she is able to join her uncle in America. Her struggle to reclaim her identity and her quest to find her surviving sister gives this exciting story its title. The story is told with economy and compassion.