Paper Hearts weaves together the lives of two young adults as they struggle to survive the Holocaust. The story begins with Zlatka, a seventeen-year-old growing up in comfort, who suddenly finds herself surrounded by hatred and fear as her town falls to the Nazis. Her freedom is stripped away, one painful layer at a time. Former friends turn their backs on Zlatka and her family, then jobs and school become forbidden and finally, the family is forced to board a train that carries them, along with cattle-cars filled with other Jews, far away from everything they’ve ever known. The story then focuses on Fania, just sixteen when the Germans arrive in Poland. Her path follows Zlotka’s in the beginning, but Fania is sent to prison early on. When she returns, she discovers her family has disappeared. Soon after, both Fania and Zlatka wind up at Auschwitz, where Fania and her younger sister are separated from their family, never to see them again. When her younger sister falls ill, she is taken away, and Fania seeks comfort from a small group of girls. She and Zlotka form a close bond, each supporting the other, forcing each friend to do whatever it takes to survive.]
Paper Hearts shows the daily horrors of life in Auschwitz. What makes this story stand out above other Holocaust accounts is that it is told completely in verse. Author Meg Wiviott captivates readers with her amazing ability to relate the horror, the fear, and the small triumphs of Zlatka and Fania as they help each other fight to stay alive. The ultimate act of defiance, spearheaded by Zlatka, is the inspiration for the book’s title. When it is Fania’s twentieth birthday, Zlatka rallies all of the girls in their block to help make a birthday cake from combined bread rations and stolen butter and marmalade. She also creates a birthday card — four purple hearts glued together and signed by each girl, all risking death to accomplish this impossible feat. The card, now on exhibit in the Montréal Holocaust Memorial Centre, and the signatures of the twenty women who signed it, are real, as is much of the story itself. Paper Hearts is a beautiful tribute to these brave women.
This remarkable book is highly recommended. But, be warned: be sure you have plenty of free time. Once you start reading Paper Hearts, you won’t be able to put it down.
Recommended for ages 12 and up.
Marcia Berneger is a retired teacher who lives with her husband and three crazy dogs. She taught both first and second grade, as well as special education. She currently teaches Torah school, in addition to her volunteer work in classrooms, libraries, and with various fundraisers. She lives in San Diego.