Don't blink or you'll miss it. The arrival of a noteworthy work of historical fiction for kids tends to work one of two ways. Either the marketing machine behind the book hits bookstores and libraries full-force, cramming said book down everyone's throats until they yield and make it a bestseller/award winner... or nothing happens at all. The book slips onto shelves without so much as a squeak, never insisting that anyone go out of their way to find it. "Someone Named Eva" belongs firmly in the latter camp. It's small and subtle and extraordinarily good. The kind of WWII children's fiction other authors should look to emulate, given the chance.
Eleven-year-old Milada remembers the night. The night when there was pounding on the door and Nazis in her Czechoslovakian home. The night when her grandmother pressed a garnet pin into her hand and told her to never forget who she was. But since that time Milada had a difficult time keeping that promise. Having been forcibly removed from her family and taken to a bizarre Nazi-run girl's school, Milada quickly learns the reason for her presence in the Lebensborn center; her shiny golden hair and bright blue eyes. Renamed Eva, Milada is part of a system intent upon turning her into a "good" German citizen. The kind of place where she can be taught the evils of the Jews, the glory of Hitler, and the joys of being adopted into a real German family's home. Based on events following the destruction of Lidice, Czechoslovakia, author Joan Wolf tells of the real Lebensborn center in Poland, the crimes it committed against an untold number of girls during WWII, and what it takes to stay true to your heritage.
Wolf is also very good at displaying the effectiveness of intense psychological brainwashing. When Milada says that, "it was hard to remember that I wasn't a Nazi, that I didn't want to be the Aryan ideal, that I hated Germany," you understand why she says this. The psychological damage inflicted on these girls must have been intense. Little wonder then that, as Wolf mentions in her Author's Note, "Very little has been written in English about the Lebensborn centers that housed kidnapped children, part of which may be due to the fact that so few children were found after the war." What's more, Wolf knows how to manipulate her reader so that we find ourselves in the same position as Milada. When she realizes with a shock that she can't remember her old name, I challenge you to remember it yourself. It's gone and as she wracks her memory, we wrack our own. Such a clever technique.
My mind makes me pair books together. That's just how it works. And at some point, mid-way through a read of "Someone Named Eva", I realized that this book should be paired alongside The Night of the Burning: Devorah's Story by Linda Press Wulf. Both take place during WWII, and they deal with very different adoption journeys. You could create an entire reading unit out of these two books alone. It's almost as if they were made for one another, so perfectly to they complement and contrast one another's themes. Before you do that, however, you must read this book first. It's Joan M. Wolf's first book for children, and I want it to get a proper amount of attention. Books like this one don't write themselves. For a good jolt of historical fiction to the brain, "Someone Named Eva" may well be one of the smartest books of the year.
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