Odette's Secrets

224p. Bloomsbury. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-59990-750-5
Gr 5–8—This story opens as World War II is beginning and the persecution of Jews in France is escalating. After Paris falls to the Nazis, Odette is rushed to the countryside, where she hides in plain sight by living with a family and pretending to be Christian. There she struggles with her identity. The strength of the novel lies in MacDonald's meticulous research, which is explained in an author's note, of the real Odette Meyers, whose photos are included. The author weaves in facts about Odette's life and the events taking place at the time with imagined scenarios in which Odette may have found herself. However, the author's free-verse prose style makes readers acutely aware that an adult is trying to write from a child's perspective, and it sounds not so much poetic as fragmentary and unorganized. This book is a good introduction for children interested in how the war and the Holocaust affected the everyday lives of kids their age, but in a field with so many classics and reinterpretations of similar stories, such as Judith Kerr's When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (Collins, 1971), Lois Lowry's Number the Stars (Houghton, 1989), Jennifer Roy's Yellow Star (Marshall Cavendish, 2006), and Sandi Toksvig's Hitler's Canary (Roaring Brook, 2007), it's an additional purchase.—Anne Barreca, New York Public Library
In this free-verse novel closely based on a true story (with photographs at the end), a little French girl recounts her childhood during World War II. Born to Polish atheist Jews, Odette lives a pleasant life with her parents in Paris, while Madame Marie, their upstairs neighbor, takes on a special role as her godmother. Paris becomes increasingly dangerous after her father enlists in the army and her mother joins the Resistance, and after a frightening visit from soldiers where Madame Marie hides Odette and her mother in a closet and says all the right, terrible things about Jews in order to protect them, Odette is sent to a country village, posing as a Christian. The uncertainty of her life filled with secrets is beautifully realized, along with the hard choices she must make. "Did God punish me because I told a lie, / said that I was not Jewish? / But my mother told me to lie. / ‘It's a matter of life or death,' she said. / And the priest tells us to obey our parents." The free-verse narration opts for directness over lyricism, allowing Odette's terror, confusion, and gradual acceptance of her new life and new familiarity with God to come through in a very personal way. Macdonald delicately balances the reader's happiness that the heroine survives with an understanding of her deep, permanent sorrow for her people, ones she knew and ones she didn't. susan dove lempke

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