A Father’s Promise
Author: Donna Lynn Hess
Published: February 1987
Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 5 stars
“[You are] either a German or a Christian; you cannot be both.”
Adolph Hitler’s ominous statements seem only a distant threat to eleven-year-old Rudi Kaplan. But when the Nazi forces invade Poland and bomb his home city of Warsaw, Rudi finds out that he is Hitler’s enemy not only because he is a Pole but also because he’s a Jew and a Christian.
The next few years change Rudi’s life forever. With only his imprisoned father’s promise that they will be reunited after the war, Rudi must learn how to survive in hiding, how to be truly brave, and how to overcome the hatred of his enemies. He must learn to die to himself and to trust the God who is mightier than any army.
I read this book so many times as a kid! My mom always loved it, it was assigned reading in elementary school, it’s published by BJUP, so of course I was gonna read it, but then I fell in love and read it over and over again through my school years. It’s such a great book to help teach kids about WWII and the Holocaust without being too graphic.
**Fair Warning**: It is a very Christian book and if a kid hasn’t had any exposure to the Bible, then they aren’t going to understand certain portions of this book.
This reading completely surprised me by making me cry through the whole book. Never once have I shed a tear when reading A Father’s Promise. But this time, the same story that I’ve known and loved almost my whole life, made me weepy! Rudi and his father’s faith never wavered, even in a time of such horrible circumstances. Seeing the struggles of the Polish people under the Nazis, even before deportations, and in a way that is appropriate for kids, hit me in a new way. I would absolutely recommend this to any kid, even those who haven’t heard Bible lessons. It’s such a great educational tool!
Salt to the Sea
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Published: February 2, 2016
Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 4 stars
While the Titanic and Lusitania are both well-documented disasters, the single greatest tragedy in maritime history is the little-known January 30, 1945 sinking in the Baltic Sea by a Soviet submarine of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a German cruise liner that was supposed to ferry wartime personnel and refugees to safety from the advancing Red Army. The ship was overcrowded with more than 10,500 passengers — the intended capacity was approximately 1,800 — and more than 9,000 people, including 5,000 children, lost their lives.
Sepetys crafts four fictionalized but historically accurate voices to convey the real-life tragedy. Joana, a Lithuanian with nursing experience; Florian, a Prussian soldier fleeing the Nazis with stolen treasure; and Emilia, a Polish girl close to the end of her pregnancy, converge on their escape journeys as Russian troops advance; each will eventually meet Albert, a Nazi peon with delusions of grandeur, assigned to the Gustloff decks.
I have a love/hate relationship with Ruta. She’s such a great story teller, and I think her works should be on every history teacher’s shelf as a great educational resource. I love her characters and she loves picking slightly obscure events within bigger, more famous circumstances. But she also loves to let stories hang. At the end, they just stop abruptly, but then time races forward and a little more info is given before the book just ends. There’s no real resolution and the “future” info is given with no real context. Why do it, Ruta????? We want more and you refuse to ever give it to us!!!!
Salt to the Sea has such wonderful characters that you end up caring about and rooting for and getting so excited about. The story of the Wilhelm Gustloff is a little known chapter of WW2; I had never heard of it, and I couldn’t wait to learn something new. Then everything just stops. She then gives just enough to “end” the story without “stopping” completely . . . But it’s not enough! What happened between 1945 and 1969? What happened with the Christensens that Emilia made that big of an impact? It’s just so incomplete and I’ve really never been sadder about the ending of a book! Every teen needs to read this book because they will learn a lot from it. But, please, Ruta!! Please stop doing this to us!!
Author: Armando Lucas Correa
Published: May 7, 2019
Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 3 stars
BERLIN, 1939: The dreams that Amanda Sternberg and her husband, Julius, had for their daughters are shattered when the Nazis descend on Berlin, burning down their beloved family bookshop and sending Julius to a concentration camp. Desperate to save her children, Amanda flees toward the south of France, where the widow of an old friend of her husband’s has agreed to take her in. Along the way, a refugee ship headed for Cuba offers another chance at escape and there, at the dock, Amanda is forced to make an impossible choice that will haunt her for the rest of her life. Once in Haute-Vienne, her brief respite is interrupted by the arrival of Nazi forces, and Amanda finds herself in a labor camp where she must once again make a heroic sacrifice.
NEW YORK, 2015: Eighty-year-old Elise Duval receives a call from a woman bearing messages from a time and country that she forced herself to forget. A French Catholic who arrived in New York after World War II, Elise is shocked to discover that the letters were from her mother, written in German during the war. Despite Elise’s best efforts to stave off her past, seven decades of secrets begin to unravel.
I’m so sad about this book. I wanted to love it and I’d been looking forward to reading it for quite a while. I know that reviewing WWII/Holocaust books can be tricky, especially when the review isn’t completely positive. The premise for this book held so much potential. The characters also had great range of emotions and I easily sympathized with them. However, the main thing that didn’t work, and I hope no one misinterprets what I’m saying, is that everyone was so melodramatic.
Some books don’t convey the horrors of war or of the Holocaust and I try to call them out on it. But this book almost had a parallel, yet still opposite effect. It wasn’t like reading a history book, it was like watching a soap opera version of WWII/Holocaust stories. I tried to see the emotions underneath everything, but if the writing had its nose up in the air any higher, it would have drowned when it rained. I sincerely doubt that those who were arrested by the Nazis spent so much time poetically identifying their feelings. It all just felt so over the top, in a not good way at all.
Plus, I felt like a whole half of the story wasn’t being told. I wanted to hear about Viera’s life in Cuba. Everyone else got to be so emotional, why didn’t she? I wanted so badly to love this story and the characters, it just all fell flat. However, I will say that it did hold my attention, and for such lofty writing, it was very easy to read. Overall, this is not my favorite WWII/Holocaust literature, but I don’t want to write it off completely. It was by no means a bad book, it just isn’t for me.