I’ll have to admit that I’m somewhat biased here, because Jane Yolen is one of my favorite young adult authors and her two other novels about the Holocaust (the dreamlike Briar Rose and the memorably earnest The Devil’s Arithmetic) are books I found beautiful. I was just browsing my local library’s YA section randomly and saw this book: I didn’t even know she had written another novel about the Holocaust.
While Briar Rose transposed its story into a fairy tale and The Devil’s Arithmetic read like an extremely well-written educational companion to Number the Stars, this novel combines a little of the two. The timeline is set to the story of Hansel and Gretel, but instead of the two main characters (twins Chaim and Gittel) being left behind by their parents, they attempt to escape a ghetto and become separated along the way. The fairy tale element is subtle enough that I didn’t realize that was the structure until I was almost finished with the novel, which speaks to how invested in the characters and their survival I became.
The book is also meticulously researched, which didn’t surprise me at all as both other books of Yolen’s on this subject were as well. Even as someone who has read a lot about the Holocaust I felt that I was learning new things reading this novel.
When the book is brutal, it’s brutal, but as it’s a young adult book that leans towards a younger audience, it is not often explicit in it’s descriptions (though when it is it’s very effective) and could be read by any child at or above an older middle school level.