Helen and Henry are among a group of Jewish children hidden in a convent in southern France in Kacer’s second entry in her Heroes Quartet after The Sound of Freedom (2018).
They are both deeply affected by the abrupt and frightening changes in their lives, Henry so much so that he cannot speak at all, even to Helen. They must immerse themselves in convent life, attending church services and even taking new French identities. Helen is able to make friends, but Henry remains silent, spending his time writing in a journal that could, if discovered, place them all in jeopardy. The children’s only respite comes from visits and performances by the mime Marcel Marceau. But “the clown,” as the children call him, has a much more important role; he has helped many Jewish children escape by providing perfectly forged documents and pretending to be a Scoutmaster leading hikes to spirit them to the Swiss border. When the Nazis arrest one of the nuns, the clown takes Henry, Helen, and another child on that hike. Henry and Helen’s tale is told in alternating third-person chapters, letting readers feel their sadness, fears, and longings. Marceau’s heroic role in the war has been documented, and it is seamlessly woven into the story. (A biographical note is appended.) As the Holocaust passes further into history, it is imperative that it be remembered.
Both a harrowing, gut-wrenching tale and a heartfelt homage to a quiet hero. (Historical fiction. 10-14)