Search­ing for Lottie

  • Review
By – June 17, 2019

Susan L. Ross’s new mid­dle-grade nov­el, Search­ing for Lot­tie, tells the sto­ry of twelve-year-old Char­lotte Char­lie” Roth’s search for infor­ma­tion about her grandmother’s sis­ter, Char­lotte, called Lot­tie, pre­sumed to have per­ished in the Holo­caust along with oth­er fam­i­ly mem­bers. The nov­el inte­grates his­tor­i­cal mate­r­i­al into oth­er nar­ra­tive threads: Charlie’s rela­tion­ship with her grand­moth­er, the uncer­tain­ties of friend­ships with boys, and a love of clas­si­cal music, which she shared with her miss­ing name­sake. Char­lie search­es for her great-aunt at the same time that she search­es for her own self-image, mea­sur­ing her per­son­al aspi­ra­tions against the dreams she believes her par­ents and her grand­moth­er hold for her. The sto­ry that results is an unusu­al­ly engag­ing and hon­est one. Read­ers will be drawn into the mys­tery of Charlotte’s fate, along with Charlie’s explo­ration of her inse­cu­ri­ties and her grow­ing under­stand­ing of her grandmother’s resilience. The impact of the Holo­caust on sur­vivors and the next gen­er­a­tions is not an abstract ques­tion, but a tan­gi­ble one, in this appeal­ing sto­ry of an intel­li­gent and insight­ful young heroine.

Char­lie is assigned a school project requir­ing research on her family’s his­to­ry. Some­thing of a per­fec­tion­ist, she is deter­mined to approach it with the same ded­i­ca­tion that she gives to prac­tic­ing the vio­lin, although many obsta­cles inter­vene in her search for evi­dence about Char­lotte. Obsta­cles are noth­ing new to Char­lie, who fights with her broth­er, Jake, and bal­ances her need for free­dom with loy­al­ty to her par­ents. No one is per­fect in the Roth fam­i­ly, and their con­flicts will seem reas­sur­ing­ly famil­iar to read­ers. Ross inter­spers­es Charlie’s text mes­sages with friends, as well as let­ters from her beloved grand­moth­er and tex­tu­al evi­dence from diaries, into the chap­ters, giv­ing the mys­tery a con­vinc­ing mul­ti-gen­er­a­tional set­ting. Charlie’s alter­nat­ing feel­ings of dis­cour­age­ment and inspi­ra­tion in look­ing into the past are mir­rored in her sim­i­lar sense of achieve­ment and dis­ap­point­ment in her musi­cal career. Ross’s exper­tise in advanc­ing the plot while show­ing Charlie’s emo­tion­al growth is sub­tle, as fine­ly tuned as Charlie’s violin.

There is an obvi­ous chal­lenge in writ­ing a nov­el with a Holo­caust theme for this age group. The author needs to frame the mag­ni­tude of the event in a per­son­al sto­ry with­out triv­i­al­iz­ing its hor­rors, while at the same time avoid­ing some of the most dev­as­tat­ing mate­r­i­al for read­ers too young to process it. The res­o­lu­tion of Charlie’s search is nei­ther over­whelm­ing­ly trag­ic nor unre­al­is­ti­cal­ly redeem­ing. She opens the door to knowl­edge about her family’s past and of the over­whelm­ing events that engulfed the Jew­ish peo­ple. At the same time, she comes to under­stand that she can only be her­self, and that her fam­i­ly will sup­port her on that journey.

Search­ing for Lot­tie is high­ly rec­om­mend­ed. Ross includes an essen­tial Author’s Note” explain­ing the ori­gins of some of the char­ac­ters in her own family’s roots, and clar­i­fy­ing how she has com­bined his­to­ry and fic­tion in her novel.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

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