With fewer living Holocaust survivors each year, it’s increasingly important to tell their story, and this is one, however...

PLAYING FOR THE COMMANDANT

A Jewish girl sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau lives because of the whims of a sadistic camp commandant.

Even in the squalor of the 1944 Hungarian ghetto, Hanna Mendel has hope for her promised place at the Budapest Conservatorium of Music, until the Nazis order the ghetto’s Jews onto cattle cars. As her journey progresses, Hanna systematically loses everything: her home and piano, cleanliness, preciously hoarded sheet music, her father at the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau, and her clothes and hair—even her name—as she’s processed into the camp. Chance leads Hanna to a terrible hope, for the camp’s commandant seeks a pianist. Like all the commandant’s personal slaves, her life is only minimally improved. Though she doesn’t work at hard labor, she starves just as harshly as any prisoner. The commandant’s sulky son, who helps sneak tiny scraps of food into the camp, appeals to Hanna much more than the diseased, wretched Jewish boys. Except for the infelicitously handled romance, Hanna’s story is reminiscent of such classics as Aranka Siegal’s Upon the Head of the Goat (1981). If anything, Hanna’s tale isn’t brutal enough—her starvation has few physical implications, for instance, and she’s blithely ignorant until war’s end of what’s burned in the camp ovens or the fate of Dr. Mengele’s twins.

With fewer living Holocaust survivors each year, it’s increasingly important to tell their story, and this is one, however soft-pedaled . (Historical fiction. 11-15)

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7636-6403-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

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Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers...

NEVER FALL DOWN

A harrowing tale of survival in the Killing Fields.

The childhood of Arn Chorn-Pond has been captured for young readers before, in Michelle Lord and Shino Arihara's picture book, A Song for Cambodia (2008). McCormick, known for issue-oriented realism, offers a fictionalized retelling of Chorn-Pond's youth for older readers. McCormick's version begins when the Khmer Rouge marches into 11-year-old Arn's Cambodian neighborhood and forces everyone into the country. Arn doesn't understand what the Khmer Rouge stands for; he only knows that over the next several years he and the other children shrink away on a handful of rice a day, while the corpses of adults pile ever higher in the mango grove. Arn does what he must to survive—and, wherever possible, to protect a small pocket of children and adults around him. Arn's chilling history pulls no punches, trusting its readers to cope with the reality of children forced to participate in murder, torture, sexual exploitation and genocide. This gut-wrenching tale is marred only by the author's choice to use broken English for both dialogue and description. Chorn-Pond, in real life, has spoken eloquently (and fluently) on the influence he's gained by learning English; this prose diminishes both his struggle and his story.

Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers will seek out the history themselves. (preface, author's note) (Historical fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: May 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-173093-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

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Despite the stale fat-to-curvy pattern, compelling world building with a Southern European, pseudo-Christian feel,...

THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS

From the Girl of Fire and Thorns series , Vol. 1

Adventure drags our heroine all over the map of fantasyland while giving her the opportunity to use her smarts.

Elisa—Princess Lucero-Elisa de Riqueza of Orovalle—has been chosen for Service since the day she was born, when a beam of holy light put a Godstone in her navel. She's a devout reader of holy books and is well-versed in the military strategy text Belleza Guerra, but she has been kept in ignorance of world affairs. With no warning, this fat, self-loathing princess is married off to a distant king and is embroiled in political and spiritual intrigue. War is coming, and perhaps only Elisa's Godstone—and knowledge from the Belleza Guerra—can save them. Elisa uses her untried strategic knowledge to always-good effect. With a character so smart that she doesn't have much to learn, body size is stereotypically substituted for character development. Elisa’s "mountainous" body shrivels away when she spends a month on forced march eating rat, and thus she is a better person. Still, it's wonderfully refreshing to see a heroine using her brain to win a war rather than strapping on a sword and charging into battle.

Despite the stale fat-to-curvy pattern, compelling world building with a Southern European, pseudo-Christian feel, reminiscent of Naomi Kritzer's Fires of the Faithful (2002), keeps this entry fresh. (Fantasy. 12-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-202648-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2011

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