Abra, now known as Arab, is the reluctant heroine of Randall Platt’s young adult novel set in World War II Poland. Arab dresses as a street boy and tries to emanate toughness and selfishness. However, she is taken in by a group of children, tries to save her own estranged family, and is finally recruited into a larger network meant to save Jewish children. Although she has rejected God and all parts of her parents’ Jewish lifestyle, her Jewishness is a part of her which she cannot remove. Abra was mourned and commemorated with a gravestone by her family, and yet she lives on in Arab.
Some reviewers have called this work anti-Semitic or ignorant as the Nazis in these pages are not all portrayed as evil. Arab befriends a homosexual Nazi and she is approached by another Nazi and asked to join his network. The ghetto is described in some detail, as are the death tolls, and yet there is a humanity to those two Nazis that seeps into the writing. There are some graphic scenes in which Arab is forced to kill the enemy in order to save herself or others. Other scenes, with Christian and Jewish orphans are living on the streets and fighting to stay alive, have a more adventurous and exciting feeling reminiscent of Dickens’ Oliver Twist.
The book as a whole or in excerpts may provide a trained group leader or educator with excellent material for group discussion. Readers who have family members who have been through some of these experiences may have much to share that will bring depth to a discussion about this book from the viewpoint of the children on the street, the deeply religious in the ghetto, the rich Jews who became no better than anyone else in the ghetto, and the reluctant Nazis who felt they didn’t have a choice.
Recommended for ages 13 and up.