THEY WENT LEFT by Monica Hesse


Age Range: 13 - 18
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Well-researched historical fiction about what happened after the Holocaust ended.

So many books tackle experiences in the camps or the resistance movements, but what happened to the people liberated at the end of the war? Jewish Zofia, liberated from Gross-Rosen and then hospitalized, has trouble remembering things, like the last time she saw her younger brother, Abek, but she knows he is all she has left and that she needs to find him. Her journey takes her from Poland to Foehrenwald, a refugee camp in Germany. In Foehrenwald, Zofia begins to rediscover that life holds joy and opportunity. There, she connects with other people who have lost everything and yet have found purpose, including Zionists preparing for kibbutz life. She also meets Josef, to whom she is immediately attracted, and continues to follow leads to find Abek even as her patchy memory circles uncertainly around memories that hide something. Despite the well-researched setting and some genuinely touching emotional beats, the novel never really gels due to absences: intriguing side plots trail off, Zofia has little identity beyond her search for Abek, and the romantic subplot is needlessly convoluted. Judaism plays a minimal role in the Jewish characters' lives.

Notable for exploring an oft-forgotten moment but ultimately succeeds mostly as a history lesson. (note on history and research) (Historical fiction. 13-18)

Pub Date: April 7th, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-316-49057-3
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2020