Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Friendship In The Time Of Hardship

I watched this amazing movie/documentary the other day called Nicholas Winton:  The Power of Good about a man who's seemingly simple actions saved over 600 children during World War II and can I just tell you it was so amazing, seriously made me cry like a baby in a good way.  This powerful movie reminded me of one of my favorite books Number the Stars by Lois Lowry a story of friendship and sacrifice during an insanely difficult time.  As always SPOILERS AHEAD.
Annemarie Johansen and her best friend Ellen Rosen live a typical life of grade school girls in Denmark.  They are vaguely aware of the German soldiers that have appeared on every street corner, but since they are mostly left alone, don't really worry about it.  This all changes one night when soldiers barge into Annemarie's house where Ellen is spending the night.  The soldiers question the Johansnes about the Rosen's whereabouts and are suspicious of Mr. Johansens claims of Ellen being his daughter due to her darker hair.  They are able to appease the soldiers when Mr. Johansen rips the pictures of his three daughters out of an album to show them, what the soldiers don't know is one of the pictures is actually Annemarie's older sister who was killed years ago. Annemarie and Ellen are told that the soldiers were looking for Jew's to "relocate" aka take to the concentration camps and that Mr. and Mrs. Rosen were in hiding and Ellen was to stay with the Johansen's.   Mrs. Johansen takes Annemarie, Ellen and the youngest Johansen girl Kirsti to her brothers house in the country.  Annemarie starts to realize the hugeness of what is going on and resolves to help in any way she can.  One night a wake for an unknown aunt is to happen, with a casket delivered to the house.  Many people come to the wake, including Ellen's parents who had been hidden for safe keeping.  Soldiers again barge in and after some great acting leave the party to their "wake".  Turns out that Mrs. Johansen's brother is part of an underground group that helps smuggle persecuted Jews across the channel to Sweden.  Ellen and her family are scheduled to go with him in the bottom of his fishing boat.  Unfortunately Mrs. Johansen is hurt helping their friends to the boat and is up to Annemarie to deliver an important package to her uncle.  She accomplishes this despite a scary run in with the soldiers.  She is sad that her best friend must leave, but is happy she could help her when push came to shove.  The end of the book wraps up most of the stories of the people we meet in the book, some good, some sad, some tragic, but all there.
I have always had a fascination with WWII.  I think the sheer horror of what the Nazi party did, the horrors and hurt of the actual warfare in all the countries involved and the amount of pain and suffering and death is oddly contrasted with the stories of friendship, bravery and showcasing of the good of most of humanity is what draws me to this era.  This book in particular has always been a favorite of mine for several reasons.  The biggest one is just the sheer readability of it, I am a fan of this authors books and this one is no exception.  It is geared for the YA crowd and I think it does a fantastic job of balancing a scary and tragic topic with speaking to a younger audience.  The author does not sugar coat anything, there is plenty of realistic tragedy and sadness, but it is tempered with a hope and a highlighting of the good people did for each other in these dark times.  The setting was awesome as it is not one you see a lot in stories about WWII.  Most stories are set in German, Poland, or France so seeing Denmark, a smaller country, doing what it had to to survive was great.  The characters were great, I liked seeing the family units and how they interacted.  I loved Kirsti as the youngest sister, adding a sense of absurd and realism to the whole proceedings.  Annemarie shows a beautiful growth arc that is bittersweet and beautiful.  I don't really have anything bad to say about this book.  I would recommend it to just about everybody, and would suggest this one as a school reading assignment, or one to read out loud with your family to inspire discussion.  I give it 9 out of 10 Star of David Necklaces.  Happy Reading Everybody!

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