This is not a happy book. Then again, what book about the Holocaust is a happy book? Granted, this one has a happy ending — it’s a story based on the life of the author’s aunt, and she survived — but getting there is harsh, depressing, and painful. Which means that Roy did an incredible job depicting the life and circumstances of her aunt Syvia’s childhood.
I’m trying to figure out a way to sum up the book without giving a mini-history lesson. For those who don’t know their World War II history, this story of one of the 800 survivors — only 12 of which were children — of the Lodz, Poland ghetto is not a fun one to read. Written in verse, I think to mimic the spare conditions of Syvia’s life, Roy captures the faith and family togetherness in the face of pure hopelessness quite well. There were parts that made me cringe — the Nazis deported all the children at one point, tearing them from their family; it was only through the courage and resorcefulness of Syvia’s father (and herself) that she managed to survive that time — and others that made me cry. I am amazed at Syvia, and at the luck — miracles? providence? chance? — that she had during her life. There were so many (more than 270,000 people lived in the ghetto at one time) that didn’t get her chance.
I’m not sure I can separate a critique of the book (can I say that in this instance I felt the verse was good, but unnecessary?) from the life. It’s a good book — not a great one — with a worthy story. And a story worth reading. Which makes the book worth reading, too.