All He Knew by Helen Frost

4.5 stars Historical Fiction

I started to get all frustrated and concerned as I began reading this book.  I felt so helpless as I read about Henry.  He had begun his life alone and misunderstood.  The label they slapped on him, became a wall.  I felt some relief that Molly had never forgotten her brother, although he wasn’t living with her.  She loved him whether he was physically present or not.  The author’s creative way of expressing this factual event makes this a very powerful story. 

Henry was four when he becomes deaf after falling ill. They had hoped that Henry could get his education at the State School for the Deaf.  Needing to pass a test, Henry arrives for the test but he is unable to understand the tests’ directions.  Failing the test, he can’t attend the state school and they label Henry, “unteachable.”  With WWII on the horizon, they soon decide to place him in Riverview, a school for mentally disabled individuals.  Talk about sad! Little time and effort are spent on the patients and Henry sinks further down.  If I could just reach into this book and grab him out, I and I think plenty other readers would have.

As I read Henry’s thoughts, his hopes and his sadness, it’s beyond sad.  I’m wondering how the other patients feel about life in Riverview.  Molly is the only bright spot until I hear Victor’s footsteps mark the halls of Riverview.  Is Victor a real person or is he an angel? Where did he come from?  It’s sad to think that, finally one professional, seems to care.   

With short chapters, this true event story is a story that will definitely make your think.  Told through verse, it’s a fast read about this time period in history.  

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

5 stars Historical

The year is 1939, WWII is on everyone’s mind as the war is moving closer to home.  Impressed with the American’s Dewey Decimal System, Odile decides that an American library is where she wants to works and lands a position at the American Library in Paris. Odile loves her new position: being surrounded by individuals who care and enjoy reading.  This truly becomes her second home and her refuge.  

We move to the year 1983.  Lily has heard that this woman in her neighborhood was a war bride yet to Lily, she didn’t match what Lily envisioned.  For school, Lily interviews this neighbor and discovers what a treasure Odile really is.  While Lily feels like her own life is crumbling apart, she finds a true friend in Odile and someone that she can confine in. Although they are generations apart, Odile finds that being with Lily, she’s able to share the story of her life and her talents, which brings her tremendous joy.  

I enjoyed how the author alternated the stories throughout the book. As I read, I had to keep reminding myself that this was a true account, that this story actually took place.  Although at times, I didn’t want one story to end, I was excited to get back into the lives of all the characters.  I had a hard time in the beginning chapters getting settled into the book but after those few chapters, I enjoyed it. I loved how everyone who was a part of the library tried so desperately to make sure their subscribers had access to the materials that they wanted. It wasn’t just making sure that the books were safe during the war but getting them out and into the hands of the individuals who really needed them, during this difficult time.  Doesn’t this sound like what we are going through now, to a point?  Is your own library meeting the needs of the people that it serves during this uncertain period in our history?  

By Plemasson – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36874402

Odile’s relationships had me up at 3:30 in the morning as I couldn’t sleep thinking how things were going to work out.  Between her father, her brother, her girlfriends and her romance, it’s a wonder I slept at all the past couple nights.  I appreciate the author’s research in putting this book together as it was a fantastic read and one that I highly enjoyed.

Thank you Atria Books and NetGalley for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.      

Projekt 1065: A Novel of World War II by Alan Gratz

5 stars Middle School Book

Every book I read from Alan, I think he can’t write any better and then, he does it again.  In Project 1065, I time-traveled back to Berlin, where I met Michael and his parents who were spies.  Michael’s father is an Irish Ambassador so there is plenty of opportunity for the family to interact with high-raking officials.  Michael is 13, he attends an all-boy school and he does his part in the resistance.  Michael is also part of Hitler’s Youth Army where he can obtain information for the Allies.  One of the hardest parts of being a spy for Michael is, when he has to fake being a Nazi. 

When a British spy plane is shot down, Hitler’s Youth Army is called in to help search for him.  Michael wants to save the man yet his team is needed to turn him in.  The original search comes up empty but he’s found later and they’re able to safety hide him for the time being.  He’ll need to get out of the country soon and that’s when Michael’s family comes into play.

Michael meets a new boy at school, Fritz whose father is on the design team for a new aircraft w/o propellers.  This aircraft will help win the war.  At Fritz’s house, Michael steals the blueprint but later realizes, he only has a small section of the blueprints.  He’ll need to find the rest of the pages and get the information to the proper authorities BUT Fritz is quickly moving up the ranks in Hitler’s Youth and he’s leaving Michael behind.  This friendship is falling by the wayside yet Michael needs those blueprints soon but how can he get them? 

I’m sitting on the edge on my chair, the stories are running simultaneously, each one just as important as the others.  It’s war, there’s some violence but that’s expected, as that’s what these individuals experienced.  I enjoyed how all these stories were all tied in to one another, they’re full of energy and how enticing they were.  Alan’s book are phenomenal, I need to breathe now!  

Last Witnesses: An Oral History of the Children of WWII

5 Stars Nonfiction

These stories lives came with a punch, they struck viciously against my heart as I read them. To think that all of these individuals were children, innocent little people, who did nothing yet they received such a life-altering experience, that still haunts them today. I didn’t and I couldn’t read this book, all in one sitting. From the beginning, I wanted to appreciate each chapter: each individual’s situation and account. Upon reading, I realized that this is not a book that I could read straight through. The emotions and the energy in each of their stories lives, makes it a book that needs space.

From the voices of Russian children, we hear their side of what occurred to them during WWII. From a few pages to up to six pages, they tell us what they remembered. The children were affected in a variety of ways by the war: many had to leave their homes, some watched their fathers leave to fight in the war hence leaving them with lots of questions running through their minds, some children had to prepare for the war themselves and some even tried to stay in their own homes while the war ragged outside. They told their account and it was translated but the tone and the feelings are still in the words on the page. It’s as if these survivors were sitting with me, telling me how they reacted to a world that had turned upside down on them.

I could tell you about many of the individuals in this book as every story life in this book is worth mentioning. Their stories are different but every single one of them, are forever changed. How many times I read the word, “Mama!” I cannot count them all. How many times I read, “I was hungry,” I cannot count them all. How many times I read about death, how it had become part of these children’s regular, daily schedule, I cannot count them all.

There was Marlen, age 11, who is now a member of a town council. Marlen remembers always being hungry while living in the orphanage. He remembers needing to be first in line or you might not get anything to eat. With it being -20 degrees outside, Marlen takes off his hat and had a soldier ladle some soup into his hat instead of finding a metal tin. Marlen quickly runs back to the orphanage. He now has frostbite on his ears but he has supplied frozen soup to everyone there. Now, this adventure puts a smile on my face.

This is a book worth reading. I enjoyed this book and I appreciate the individuals who shared their stories lives with me.