As World War II comes to a close, a German teen and her sister struggle for survival.
It’s March 1945. Katja, 16, her older sister, Hilde, and their Mutti live alone on a Pomeranian farm; Papi was killed two years earlier fighting in the German army. Hilde’s boyfriend is also a soldier. Katja mourns the loss of her Jewish piano teacher, Herr Goldstein, who moved to Poland three years ago. When advancing Russian soldiers take over their home, the three depart on foot for the fictional town of Fahlhoff to stay with their mother’s friends, whom the girls call Aunt Ilse and Uncle Otto. On the long trip there, Russian soldiers shoot and kill Mutti. In Fahlhoff Katja and Hilde struggle to survive under Russian occupation. Katja vandalizes a Russian officer’s automobile, setting off a series of deadly consequences. Unfortunately, the novel feels somewhat myopic—Katja seems much less aware of the danger the Goldsteins faced than seems reasonable given the harsh pervasiveness of anti-Semitic rhetoric. She also seems relatively unaffected by losing her father and Germany’s defeat, making it difficult to relate to her and muddling her narrative arc. Katja’s persistent short-sightedness and flip-flopping emotions leave readers frustrated and bored. For a better treatment of this time period, read Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (2016).
Tone deaf. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 12-15)