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Three WWII Era Historical Fiction Heartprint Books

By Durowaa A-M., 8th Grade

(Heartprint books, first written about here, are books that “touch our lives and our heart, leaving us changed forever.”)

There is something about the historical fiction genre that melts my heart. It may be the fact that the stories told seem so real. My favorite two subjects to read about are the World War II concentration camps and slavery. Those stories hold truths that people would like to forget, but those two subjects also show how much a person can persevere in the face of adversity. I have only cried twice when reading a book, and both times I was reading a novel in the historical fiction genre. The three books I have wrote about below have especially touched my heart. I will never be able to forget how these books filled my ignorance with life changing ideas and will treasure these books forever.

3. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Bruno, a naive nine year old boy, is forced to move out of his large, comfortable home in Germany, to a house with only three floors in a place called “Out-With” located in Poland. In this strange new house, there is no banister to slide down, there are soldiers constantly marching around, and there are no children in the area besides Bruno and his sister Gretel. More accurately, there are no children besides the unfriendly looking guys Bruno can see through his bedroom window who are always wearing striped pajamas. One day, as Bruno explored the land around his house, he came face to face with a boy his age on the other side of the electrified fence. The boy, who Bruno later finds out is named Shmuel, is wearing the striped pajamas. They instantly become friends despite their many differences, but are each trapped in their own little world and can never play together on the same side of the fence.  Bruno and Shmuel friendship becomes so strong, nothing, not even the fence can keep them apart.

This book has stuck with me because the fact that children are being put in such brutal environments deeply saddens me. I like how John Boyne, the author, makes this book completely clean of bad words, making this book more appealing to younger children compared to many other Holocaust books. Boyne does a great job tying actual events from WWII to the plot of the story. A person who may not know a lot about the Holocaust may not understand the symbolism used in the book, and will not get the full effect of how powerful the story really is. The story is told from the unique perspective of a nine year-old, with also makes the book different from many other Holocaust books. One turn off about this book is the fact that Bruno is so ignorant. Kids his age would be attending Hitler Youth and would know who Hitler was. However, Bruno’s lack of knowledge makes the story less graphic for younger reader. The cruel twist in the end broke my heart and will never be able to forget that part of the story. This book is highly recommended to people:

  • Who are ages 8 and older

  • Love reading about the Holocaust and World War II

  • Want to read a short and inspiring story

2. If I Should Die Before I Wake

Sixteen year-old, Hilary Burke, hates Jews. It is no surprise that she has joined a group of Neo-Nazis called the Great Warriors. Hilary actually hates a lot of things: she hates her dad for dying when she was five, she hates her mom for not taking care of her when she was a child, Hilary hates the fact she is in critical condition in a Jewish hospital, and she hates the old Jewish woman who is constantly staring at her in the hospital. Hilary was sent to a Jewish hospital because she was severely injured in a motorcycling accident when riding with her boyfriend, Brad (who didn’t suffer any major injuries). She is confined to her hospital bed and is unable to speak or move as she slips in and out of a coma. Hilary finds herself spinning, and when she stops spinning, it seems as though she is in a different world. She is now a Jewish girl by the name of Chana Bergman living in Poland. Nazis swarm the streets, terrorizing and killing her friends and family. Hilary continues to switch memories from the past and present. Chana is forced to move to the Lodz Ghetto, and soon after she is brought to Auschwitz, and infamous concentration camp. Chana struggles to keep her will to live, meanwhile, Hilary learns what it is like to walk a mile in another person’s moccasins.

Han Nolan, the author, creates a clear depiction of the concentration camps and treatment of Jews. I felt as though I was alongside Chana, suffering from everything she had to go through. Nolan expresses detail in such an artistic way, painting a clear picture for even the most unimaginative of people. I can also tell the book was well researched and lines up perfectly with the actual history of the Holocaust. The overall message of the book was touching, and I enjoyed how the author shows the internal change in Hilary. The ending is very interesting (I am barely resisting the urge to spoil it) and wraps ups the story well. After reading this book I was surprised that I had not heard of it before and I hope that more people add this to their to-read list. If you enjoy reading about the Holocaust, have read or seen the movie The Devil’s Arithmetic, and/or above the age of 13 (because of the graphic details and language used), you will absolutely love this book the way I did.

1. Between Shades of Gray

The 1940s was a period of great change. Hitler was active in WWII and Stalin easily took over smaller countries like Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. Lina is a normal fifteen year-old living in Lithuania during the early 1940s. One night, the Soviet police barged into her house and arrested Lina and her family. Lina and her mom, along with her younger brother, Jonas, were packed into a dirty, crowded train car. Her father had been separated from the rest of the family. Lina was deported to freezing, vast land of Siberia. All the people sent there are forced to dig for beets at a work camp despite the harsh conditions. Disease and illness spread like a wildfire throughout the camp, killing many. One of the only things that can help make the experience better for Lina is drawing. Lina takes a huge risk by drawing important events and hoping that one day her drawings would get to her dad so he knows that they are all alive. At least for now.

This novel captures a period in history that is often ignored and overshadowed by WWII. One of the many thing that touched me about this story is how it focuses on human perseverance instead of giving up. The characters helped one another, and constantly comfort each other.  Even in the most horrifying of situations, I could still feel hope for the characters. There are so many good messages the author, Ruta Sepetys sends to the reader. Sepetys shares about the importance of family ties, and optimism. The reader is left to ponder what we would do if we were in Lina’s shoes. I like how the author makes Lina imperfect because the reader can easily relate he her. I read the acknowledgements, and I learned how much research was put into this book- and it clearly shows. I would recommend this book to people:

  • Who love reading about the Holocaust

  • Who are ages 13 and older

  • That want to read a sob story (don’t worry I cried through this book too)

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