“Refugee” Alan Gratz

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published July 25, 2017. Scholastic. 337 p. (Includes Maps and Author’s note.)

RefugeeJosef was almost thirteen-years-old in 1938 when Kristallnacht sent the strong message that Jews were not welcome in Germany. Soon afterwards, he, his father, mother and little sister, along with hundreds of other Jews, boarded the MS St. Louis bound for Cuba where they hoped to escape bigotry and start a new life.

In 1994 Isabel lived with her mother, father and grandfather in Cuba but, with the fall of the Soviet Union, food, gasoline and medicine had become scarce and people began to starve. After riots began, Castro allowed them to leave without fear of arrest. Knowing their only chance of survival was to flee to Miami, Isabel and her family joined their neighbors on a rickety homemade boat. Their 90-mile trip would be dangerous, but they were willing to risk everything to be free.

Twelve-year-old Mahmoud lived with his father, mother, little brother and baby sister in Aleppo Syria in 2015. Four years ago people revolted against their dictator president, which led to war and constant bombings. Their apartment building was blown apart and they had nowhere to go, so Mahmoud and his family joined thousands of other Syrians on a long march to Germany, hoping to start a new life without fear of war.

Real-life occurrences from World War II, the early 90’s, and current events are combined in alternating voices to tell the story of three children who all hope to grow older. This well-researched book will get conversation flowing about immigrants, xenophobia, acceptance and intolerance. It is excellent for book clubs, especially in middle schools.

Highly recommended for ages 11-15.

 

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“Code name Verity” (Verity #1) Elizabeth Wein

Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. Hyperion. 339 p. (Includes a “Brief Bibliography.”)

CodeNameVerityThe story opens with Verity, a secret agent sent to Occupied France by the British, being held prisoner by the Gestapo during World War II. After being tortured for weeks, Verity struck a deal which allowed her to regain a modicum of civility but which also included having her write all she knew about the Royal Air Force (RAF) and her role with the British.

As Verity’s story unfolds we meet Maddie, a rare female pilot in the RAF who became Verity’s best friend. As their stories of bravery, friendship, and survival in the midst of fear and the unknown are revealed, readers will be hard pressed to keep their tears and emotions in check.

“Code Name Verity” won the Michael L. Printz Honor Award in 2013, given by YALSA (the Young Adult Library Services Association). It also was listed on the 2013 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Top Ten list, and won numerous other awards. All are well deserved.

Highly recommended for ages 16 and older, including Adults.

“Projekt 1065: A novel of World War II” Alan Gratz

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published October 11, 2016. Scholastic. 309 p. (Includes “Author’s Note.”)

projekt1065In 1938 Michael O’Shaunessey moved to Berlin, Germany with his parents when his father was named Irish Ambassador. Over the 6 years of living there he’d seen the Nazi Party became stronger, changing its people for the worse. It is now 1943, and things have gotten bad as Jews and other dissenters are being taken to concentration camps. Michael had never known his parents were spies for the Allies but now, at the age of 13, he found himself working with them.

When a British RAF pilot was shot down over the city, Michael and his parents discovered the Nazis had been secretly building a plane with engines instead of propellers, which could fly faster than any country’s planes and would turn the tide of the war towards Germany.

Accidentally finding the plane’s blueprints accelerated Michael’s spy role within the ranks of the Hitler Youth. As things heat up, it soon becomes evident that Michael and his parents are in grave danger. Michael will have to do all he can to make sure the Nazis don’t succeed in their plan for world domination before it’s too late.

I really enjoyed reading “Projekt 1065.” Its short, cliffhanger, fast paced chapters make it a great choice for reluctant readers, while its storyline is very interesting.

Highly recommended for ages 11-14.

“Avenue of Spies: A true story of Terror, Espionage, and one American family’s heroic resistance in Nazi-occupied France” Alex Kershaw

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Ebook. Crown Publishers. Published August 4, 2015. (Includes Maps, Notes and a Bibliography.)

AvenueOfSpiesThe story of the bravery shown by American doctor Sumner Jackson, his Swiss-born wife Charlotte (who he called Toquette), and his son Phillip during World War II is recounted in “Avenue of Spies.” When the Germans invaded France in 1940, the Jacksons lived on the beautiful Avenue de Foch in Paris where Sumner was in charge of the American Hospital of Paris. Within days of their arrival, Nazi officers had taken over homes in the area leaving Sumner and the hospital temporarily out of their crosshairs.

Using the hospital as cover Sumner began to treat, then sneak, select patients out of the country. He and his wife joined the French Resistance, and played an important role in the movement. With agents betrayed regularly, the Jackson’s were soon captured and forced to endure the Nazi’s form of justice.

Using clear and descriptive narratives, along with eyewitness accounts, Kershaw tells a powerful story of light and strength during a dark period of world history. Though I had not previously heard of him, I am glad the work of the Jackson family during World War II is now coming to light. His story is one that should be read by all lovers of freedom and bravery.

Highly recommended for Adults.

“The Last Passenger” Manel Loureiro

Rated 5 stars ***** EBook. Published January 1, 2015 by AmazonCrossing (first published in 2013).

TheLastPassengerWhen reporter Kate Kilroy’s husband Robert is killed by a drunk driver, she feels like her own life has ended. To give her a new lease on life her editor suggests she take on an assignment researching the Valkyrie, a Nazi ghost ship discovered in 1939 with no one alive on board except for a baby, and which has lain untouched for 70 years. Within a short time she has met the eccentric millionaire, Isaac Feldman, who purchased the ship for millions of pounds and renovated it for some obscure purpose.

Eager to learn more for her story, Kate agrees to accompany Isaac and a group of scientists to recreate the Valkyrie’s last journey. Soon, strange things begin to happen and they begin to realize there is a malevolent spirit on board who wants to recreate what happened in 1939. With time running out, Kate will be called upon to reach deep into her soul for the strength to combat an evil determined to destroy everything and everyone in its path.

Each cliffhanger chapter ending of “The Last Passenger” drew me deeper and deeper into its mystery, keeping me glued to its pages until I reached its satisfying conclusion. It was a wonderful read.

Highly recommended for Adult readers.

“Dead Wake: The last voyage of the Lusitania” Erik Larson

Rated 5 stars. Ebook. ARC. Crown Publishers (Random House). Published March 10, 2015. (Includes “Sources and Acknowledgements,” “Notes,” and a “Bibliography.”)

Dead WakeOn May 7, 1915, three years after the sinking of the Titanic, the RMS Lusitania was torpedoed by a German submarine and sank within 18 minutes, killing almost 2000 people including 128 Americans. Like many Americans, I had heard of the Lusitania and thought the United States immediately entered World War I because of it. After reading “Dead Wake” I now know this was not true.

Using letters, telegrams and other first hand correspondence Erik Larson creates a timeline of the days leading up to the Lusitania’s last voyage. Passengers and key international characters come alive as readers experience the events of that fateful May afternoon, including the upheaval which followed the Lusitania’s demise. Secrets that might have saved the Lusitania and its passengers are unlocked and revealed through the pages of this amazing book.

“Dead Wake,” is such an historical gem that I read every single one of its footnotes with as much interest as I did the rest of the book. Lovers of history will find themselves glued to every page.

Highly recommended for Adult readers.

“Prisoner B-3087” Alan Gratz, Ruth Gruener, and Jack Gruener

Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. Scholastic Press. 260 pp. (Includes “Afterword”).

PrisonerB-3087In 1939 Krakow Poland, Yanek Gruener lived a good life with his parents in their small apartment on Krakusa Street. He was just 10 years old, and loved entertaining his aunts, uncles and cousins with made up stories from watching American movies. When the German army invaded Poland that year, his life changed forever.

Change began with small things such as being ostracized at school but, gradually, the changes got worse and worse. Soon, Yanek and his family were hiding out in a pigeon coop on the roof of their building to avoid night raids and beatings by the Nazis. They managed to stay together for 3 years, before Yanek lost his entire family and was sent to the first of 10 concentration camps.

In one of the camps Yanek was tattooed with the number B-3087 and, in chronological order, Gratz takes readers to all the places where Yanek was sent when he was just 13 years old. These camps included Plaszow (1942-1943), a barracks at the Wieliczka Salt Mine (1943-1944), Trzebina (1944), Birkenau (1944-1945) and Auschwitz (1945).

With the Allies approaching the Nazis forced their prisoners on two different death marches, which ultimately led Yanek to spend time at Sachsenhausen (1945), Bergen-Belsen (1945), Buchenwald (1945), Gross-Rosen (1945), and Dachau (1945). Along with his hopes and fears Yanek tells of the beatings, starvations and other horrors he endured in these camps and on the forced marches, while the goal of survival kept him alive.

“Prisoner B-3087” is based on Jack Gruener’s life, and is an important look into the dark past of World War II. We need to remember what happened during the Holocaust while never forgetting those who died, and those who survived.

Recommended for readers aged 12 and older.

Listed on the ALA (American Library Association’s) Best Fiction for Young Adults list (compiled by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA).