A young woman is torn between her church's principles and her passion for secular music—and a forbidden love—in Schreck’s delicately tuned debut set in Depression-era Chicago.

Raised in the Danish-Baptist Church, Rose Sorensen sings popular songs from the radio when she thinks no one's around. She revels in the rich tones of Mahalia Jackson and yearns for the freedom to sing openly, but she knows her parents would disapprove. Her family was once affluent, but now her dour father manages tenement buildings, which Rose cleans, and they live in a cramped apartment. Rose's 14-year-old sister, Sophy, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, is Rose's biggest supporter, encouraging her to be happy and sing whatever she wants. Her cousin Rob also understands Rose's passion, and for her 21st birthday, he takes her on a covert outing to Calliope’s, a jazz club that welcomes blacks and whites. Rose’s life is transformed. Defying her parents, she secretly becomes lead singer for the Chess Men, an interracial band, and falls in love with black pianist Theo Chastain. Rose’s life sways back and forth between the club and Theo—who often pretends to be Rose’s driver to mask their relationship from others—and her role as dutiful daughter, continuing to sing at church and feigning interest in an acceptable suitor. Inevitably, Rose’s two worlds collide, and she and Theo have to make decisions about the Chess Men and their future. Schreck delivers an articulate, well-researched story with an inspirational message about following your dreams; and her passion for the era, its music and her characters is unmistakable.

Hits all the right notes.

Pub Date: April 8, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0548-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Howard Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2014

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These letters from some important executive Down Below, to one of the junior devils here on earth, whose job is to corrupt mortals, are witty and written in a breezy style seldom found in religious literature. The author quotes Luther, who said: "The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn." This the author does most successfully, for by presenting some of our modern and not-so-modern beliefs as emanating from the devil's headquarters, he succeeds in making his reader feel like an ass for ever having believed in such ideas. This kind of presentation gives the author a tremendous advantage over the reader, however, for the more timid reader may feel a sense of guilt after putting down this book. It is a clever book, and for the clever reader, rather than the too-earnest soul.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1942

ISBN: 0060652934

Page Count: 53

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1943

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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