It’s the summer of 1942 and twelve-year-old Isabel Brandt hates all this talk about war. She’d rather spend her time having her hair bobbed and her nose shortened before she enters junior high in the fall. She arrives with her parents at Moskin’s hotel for their usual Catskills vacation and observes that the war has already infiltrated her life through staff changes and food rationing. Worse, she has to share a cabin with the elusive, alluring fourteen-year-old Helga, a German-Jewish refugee and niece of her mother’s friend, Mrs. Frankfurter. When Mrs. Frankfurter falls ill, Helga is invited to stay with the Brandts in their Bronx apartment, sharing Isabel’s room.
In Isabel, Perl has created a likable, quirky character who likes to insert French phrases into her conversations and who is coming of age during a time of change. Isabel doggedly pursues learning Helga’s secrets, how and why she came to America. Only when Helga admits the truth and runs away does Isabel dem- onstrate her transformation from a carefree seventh-grader to a young woman committed to doing what’s right.
Perl, who grew up in Brooklyn, gives readers the benefit of her experiences in this posthumously published historical novel. She transports them convincingly to the Forties and wartime. One drawback, however, is that characters philosophize on soapboxes about Nazi atrocities and the effect of war on America. Also, Isabel’s French phrases can only be understood through context; they are not translated.
Recommended for ages 10 – 14.
Barbara Krasner is a doctoral candidate in Holocaust & Genocide Studies at Gratz College and is Director, Holocaust, Genocide & Human Rights Center at Mercer County Community College. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.