“Just who are you?…No. What are you?” These questions are at the heart of this survival story set in World War II Warsaw.
Abra Goldstein, 16, thrills on defiant criminality and despises the proper expectations her “filthy-rich Jewish parents” have for her. Abra runs away and reinvents herself as “Arab” (a shortening of the dated, offensive term “street arab”), leader of a gang of young thieves. When the Nazis conquer Poland, Arab morphs into any role required of her: girl/boy, Jew/Gentile, thief/benefactor; she adds killer/savior when she sees her countrymen subjected to the Nazis’ cruelty and Jews threatened with Hitler’s Final Solution. She retaliates against soldiers after witnessing a massacre, then joins a risky plot to rescue Jewish children—her younger sister included—before they are transferred to camps. Narrated by Arab over the course of several months from 1939 to 1941, the tale is rough and violent. The plotting careens a bit through Arab’s many ventures, but readers will champion the scrappy, unconventional protagonist when she commits to the resistance. An epilogue dated September 1946 testifies to her success. Although uneven, this is an intriguingly complex psychological study of an individual’s criminal behavior, self-hate, and self-reckoning heightened by and contrasted with the horrors of war, in which the worst crimes—those against humanity—are government policy.
An intriguing addition to Holocaust fiction. (Historical fiction. 12-16)