Wednesday, July 1, 2009

July Book Review

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@Barrie Summy

One nice thing about incessant rain--lots of time for reading! Here's this month's installment of the Book Review Club, a blog round-up organized by Barrie Summy. Don't forget to click the icon for more reviews. (The icon may not work until a it's a decent hour of the morning in California, where Barrie lives.)

Number the Stars
By Lois Lowry
Yearling, Random House Children’s Books, 1990

I’m reading The Book Thief right now, Marcus Zusak’s remarkable young-adult novel about a German girl caught up in the Holocaust. It’s narrated by Death, the one with the most to gain. I’m not quite half-way through it and am absorbed.

Last week in Bangor, though, I overtaxed my new bionic knee on a shopping spree at Staples, and had no choice but to go across to Borders for a cup of coffee and a pretzel. You can’t just sit there, so I bought a book to read; Number the Stars, the 1990 Newbery Award-winner by Lois Lowry.

This is a slim book physically, especially in a Yearling paperback. It is far from slim in spirit, however. I’ve read other slim books by Lowry—the lovely Gossamer, and her slim-ish second Newbery winner, The Giver. I don’t know how she packs so much information, insight, and food for thought into so few words.

Much as I’m loving The Book Thief, I expect that Number the Stars will stay with me longer. Lowry’s characters aren’t as conflicted and dramatic as Zusak’s—they are pleasant, everyday Danes, painted in restful colors, who react to horror with courage they kept stored in their bones. They could be you and me—their bravery is approachable, within our reach.

The protagonist is Annemarie Johansen, a ten-year-old who lives in Copenhagen. Her best friend, Ellen Rosen, lives down the hall, and their mothers are best friends, too. The Rosens are Jewish; the Johansens are not.

The book’s first scene shows Annemarie and Ellen racing down the sidewalk, two kids with nothing more on their minds than whose legs are longer. They’re stopped and questioned by the Nazi soldiers on the corner. We feel a twinge of dread. Thirty-four pages later, it’s midnight, the Rosens have disappeared, Ellen is pretending to be Annemarie’s sister, and Nazis are banging on the Johansens’ door. The stakes creep higher and higher until one night Annemarie finds herself running through the Danish woods, risking her life to save the Rosens and others.

This is not a tumultuous, edge-of-the-chair kind of book. It gently draws you in and pulls you along. You feel you have had Annemarie’s experience, not just read about it. That’s what a novel’s supposed to do, and few of them do it this well.

Thanks, stupid knee.