First Lines: Through the village/once loved./Eyes lowered/not shamed/footsteps steady/not faster/or slower/than before.
A few days ago, I talked about those Holocaust books for my students. This is another one recently added to our list. I got it free from Scholastic years ago, but I never was inclined to read it. But I did always think it was interesting this Holocaust story was written in verse.
Survival. Friendship. Defiance. Things Fania and Zlatka found in Auschwitz. These two teenagers lost so much along the way until they found each other. They looked out for each other, protected each other as much as possible. And, in the ultimate act of defiance, Zlatka made Fania a birthday card in Auschwitz: a purple heart signed by a number of their other friends, with wishes for the future. Something as simple as a card could mean death for these girls, which made Fania treasure it all the more. Based on a true story.
I figured this would be a fast read, being written in verse.
And it was. I was pretty quickly pulled into Zlatka’s story, but I had a little trouble with Fania’s. In part, at least, I think that’s because it has hard to remember who was the narrator. The verses are written in a similar style no matter who the narrator is. And the girls tended to have very similar perspectives. I just generally assumed the narrator was Zlatka, even when I knew it wasn’t. It’s weird to switch narrators in a verse novel like that. I’ve seen it done before, but the voices were very clearly different.
But the story, especially knowing it’s based on true events, is special. Zlatka and Fania are both trying to be brave and learn how to adapt to their new situation, despite losing their families one way or another. The depictions of Auschwitz fit well with what I already know about the camp and this did have the feel of being meticulously researched. I appreciated that.
This story is hopeful and doesn’t get too dark, despite the subject matter. That doesn’t mean it goes down easy (the girls still have to deal with a lot of death, hardships, and brutality), but it also makes those small moments of hope and kindness they experienced stand out more. I didn’t walk out of this book hating humanity like I can sometimes in other Holocaust books. This actually more or less did the opposite–because it made sure to highlight those moments of kindness coming from expected and unexpected places.