There are no Nazis in the first 50 pages of this Holocaust tale.
Six-year-old Tuky, growing up in wartime Hungary, learns to embroider. She visits a factory. She eats hot cereal with a little cocoa flower drawn on the top. Invading soldiers are mentioned briefly in passing, and readers who’ve studied the history of Hungary may experience a growing sense of dread. But even they may get distracted when the author lists every item served at a family meal. As Alfred Hitchcock very famously explained, the secret of suspense is making sure the audience knows there’s a bomb under a table; then, even the most banal conversation at that table will be filled with tension. In this book, Rosenfeld forgets to tell anyone about the bomb, so the opening is not suspenseful, just banal. Later sections of the book, however, are genuinely thrilling. The most mundane details suddenly turn ominous. An argument over a milk cow is first comical, then frightening, as the farmers begin to suspect Tuky’s Jewish identity. And Tuky—based on the author’s real-life mother—is a charming protagonist, clever enough to outwit the soldiers but playful enough to say, “I’ll never be too old to stand on my head.”
If the early chapters feel padded, by the time readers get to the middle, they may be relieved to know in advance that the real Tuky survived: too much suspense can be as unbearable as too little. (historical notes, interview, glossary) (Historical fiction. 8-12)