The Second World War has always been fascinating to me. I’m always looking for great YA Holocaust literature and fresh perspectives. This particular book won the Milkweed Prize for Children’s Literature in 1996. It’s definitely for middle-grade readers, and it’s a slim, simply written book, but sometimes that’s what I crave.
Behind the Bedroom Wall by Laura E. Williams
Milkweed Editions, 2005 (Originally published in 1996)
Courtesy of Amazon.com:
From Publishers Weekly
Melodrama substitutes for conflict in this heavy-handed novel set in Nazi Germany. At 13, Korinna Rehme is just like the other members of her girls’ youth group: besotted with the Fuhrer (“Hitler is the most wonderful man, Mother. Don’t you think so?”) and rabidly anti-Semitic. When she discovers that two Jews, a mother and young daughter, are hiding in her very own house, she is horrified at her parents’ calumny. As Korinna weighs the possibility of turning her parents in, her best friend, Rita, begins to grow suspicious and starts laying a deadly trap for the Rehmes and their clandestine guests. Neither subtlety nor insight plays a part in these proceedings: Williams doesn’t suggest the attractions of the Hitler youth groups or allow for the range of attitudes within these groups, described so persuasively in such memoirs as Ilse Koehn’s Mischling, Second Degree or Hans Peter Richter’s I Was There. Instead, the dilemmas faced by these characters come across to the reader as crystal-clear choices between good and evil. This type of simplification makes for bad history and a flat read. Ages 9-13.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Strengths: Clear, straightforward narrative style. Some particularly likable characters (Korinna’s mother and her friend Eva) help the reader invest in the story.
Potential Flaws: This book really doesn’t have much WOW factor. Although it’s written simply enough for struggling readers, I don’t know that I would recommend it even as an introduction to Holocaust literature; it seems flat and overly watered down. The history of the Holocaust is complex and terrible, and I just don’t feel that this book does it justice. It wasn’t a travesty, but it also lacked that special edge that beautifully written historical fiction can have. When compared to titles like Zusak’s The Book Thief or Mal Peet’s Tamar, this title just doesn’t stand a chance.
I’m honestly not seeing the “prize-winning” aspects of this book. Perhaps manuscripts were thin that year. A lackluster presence in a world with MANY better options.