*** there are some light spoilers in this review.
Sixteen year-old Jacob is dealing with the before and after of his beloved grandfather’s death. No one else has ever understood him, and no one believes him when he describes his grandfather’s murder. Jacob had his grandfather’s stories of hiding from the monsters on an island with magical children during the Holocaust and a collection of photographs from this time.
I enjoyed the first section of the book, covering his grief and people’s reaction to his stories. The second half, when he travels to the island (I won’t tell you what he finds there) relied too much on the photographs and not enough on narrative and character development.
While I didn’t hugely enjoy, or dislike, the book there were aspects I found interesting. I think it is a hugely innovative way to think about the Holocaust and World War II. The children in the grandfather’s story are all being kept on the island because of their strange powers and abilities. They are also suspended in childhood, and have very little control over their time. I couldn’t help wondering if this was a strange allusion to concentration camps.
There are terrible monsters, hunting only these types of children, and special informers that blend into society. Jacob questions whether these stories are his grandfather’s allegorical way of being able to talk about his child as a Polish Jew in the 1940s. These are interesting ideas, but they aren’t taken far enough to work in the book.
The photographs were my favorite part of the book. While I didn’t dislike it, I don’t see why it has been so enormously popular, spending 45 weeks on the New York Times “Best Sellers” list for children’s chapter books.
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