From the Publisher
"Pressler demands a certain sophistication from the audience; her incisive writing challenges readers to rise to meet her." --Publishers Weekly
* "Books for young people have rarely directly addressed the moral issues surrounding the legacy of historical sins; this thoughtful and provocative volume will elicit plenty of discussion about American historical heritage as well as European, and it could therefore be an interesting partner to Mildred Taylor's Logan family saga." --Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, starred review
"There are shelves of Holocaust books about victims, perpetrators, rescuers, and bystanders; but what about those who profited from the genocide? What happened to the property the Jews left behind? . . . The history and the issues will spark discussion." --Booklist
Like the German film The Nasty Girl, this tough-minded novel, also from Germany, centers on a contemporary young heroine's attempt to scrape away the comfortable local fictions that obscure a generation's behavior during the Third Reich. Eighteen-year-old Johanna has grown up believing that her grandfather deserves the credit for the prosperity of the family business, a prestigious department store, and her parents assume that she herself will run it someday. But a school trip to Israel-to meet the eight Jewish women who attended Johanna's school in 1933-teaches her a different story. One of the women informs her that the store had belonged to two Jewish families, one of them her own, and that Johanna's grandfather had stolen it from them in the late '30s. Pressler (Halinka), also known for editing the definitive edition of Anne Frank's diary with Otto Frank, probes the issues here from many angles. She observes scenes closely but unobtrusively, conveying sensory images in crystalline prose, and a variety of story lines suggest the density of Johanna's life (a boyfriend, ruptures in the family, allusions to an Israeli youth). The complex narrative structure, in which chronology takes a back seat to moment-to-moment relevance, not only allows for strategic revelation of different pivotal scenes but also reflects Johanna's thinking as she tries to process the facts she uncovers. Pressler demands a certain sophistication from the audience; her incisive writing challenges readers to rise to meet her. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
AGERANGE: Ages 15 to 18.
This moving and important novel touches on a part of the Holocaust that is not often covered. Johanna is an older teen whose family owns a successful clothing store in Germany. She had always understood that her grandfather purchased the store from the Nazis after the war and achieved success through hard work and determination. She never questioned his involvement in the war. Then on a summer trip to Israel, she is confronted by Meta Levin who claims to be related to the original owners of the store. Johanna is told that the store was stolen by the Nazis from Levin's family because they were Jews. Anti-Semitic laws prohibited Jews from owning businesses during the war. Her family's business became property of the Third Reich, in which her grandfather had a role. This revelation rocks Johanna's world. Her boyfriend Daniel underscores the injustice of this revelation. When her grandfather commits suicide, she realizes it is time to confront the family. Johanna is torn between her family's desire to "let sleeping dogs lie" and her desire for what is right. She is also haunted by a sexual experience she had with Levin's grandson while in Israel. This memory causes her to question her own morality and loyalty to her boyfriend Daniel. This wonderful story portrays a part of Germany's past about which very few Americans think. It is a tale, however, that a reluctant reader would most likely not finish. The narrative itself seems a bit too drawn out and tedious at times. Perhaps it is a byproduct of the English translation from German. Despite this flaw, it is a worthy purchase for any teen fiction collection. Reviewer: Victoria Vogel
April 2008 (Vol. 31, No. 1)
Children's Literature - Leslie Greaves Radloff
This young adult novel poses complex questions about right and wrong, living with guilt, and coming to terms with family members who have not been ethical in their dealings with others. Johanna, named for her grandmother, and her family live in modern Germany where the dealings of the post-war government of the 50s and the Nazi regime surface in unexpected ways. A school assignment puts Johanna on a quest and throughout the novel she seeks to find the truth about her grandfather and his dealings with the Jewish people who owned the department store he bought from them after Kristallnacht. Traveling to Israel, Johanna sees a different side of the questions she wants answered: Can we love those who are guilty of taking advantage of a situation? How can we justify them to ourselves? Can we still love them? And perhaps more importantly, why did both her grandparents commit suicide? Johanna and her boyfriend Daniel are sexually active, something that the author makes quite explicit. There is also a scene of what appears to be date rape while Johanna is in Israel, although one is not really sure. Thought-provoking, especially as the newspaper exposes more information about the victims of the Holocaust and as survivors tell their stories. The novel is translated from the German and at times suffers for that. For older, mature readers. Reviewer: Leslie Greaves Radloff
School Library Journal
Gr 10 Up- A significant look at the enduring ramifications of the Holocaust, set in 1995. Johanna, 18, is the granddaughter of Erhard Riemenschneider, an owner of an upscale department store and former Nazi party member. Recognized as a child of privilege in her German town, the teen attends an expensive preparatory academy that was originally a school for Jewish girls. When she takes a trip to Israel with her class to meet and interview eight elderly women who once attended the school, she discovers the truth behind her family's wealth. One of the women, Meta Levin, reveals that her family founded the store but were robbed of their business during the Third Reich by none other than Johanna's grandfather, "that goddamn Nazi." Johanna is haunted by the past throughout the rest of her senior year, which leaves her unsettled and confused as she wrestles with confronting her secretive father and finally challenges him to admit the injustice of their success. Pressler's lyrically translated, compelling psychological drama unfolds slowly through an omniscient narration guiding the protagonist on an emotional journey of family history through a series of intermingled imagined scenes and flashbacks. Themes of guilt, secrets, reparation, and injustice appear throughout, but are tied together with the main idea that silence is the greater sin. A powerful and thought-provoking novel for mature teens.-Rita Soltan, Youth Services Consultant, West Bloomfield, MI Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.