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A fictionalized account of the life of Helmuth Hubener, a German teenager who had the courage to stand up to the Nazis in Germany, at the cost of his life. Bartoletti explores how Hubener came to be drawn into the Hitler Youth Movement, and what possibly might have motivated him to sacrifice everything to tell the German people the truth about Nazi atrocities. Bartoletti wrote this book after researching Hubener’s life for her non-fiction book, Hitler Youth: Growing up in Hitler’s Shadow.

Soviet Terror

28th April 2011

I read two books recently that shed new light for me on the suffering caused by the Soviets during World War II. The first, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, is a novel based on the author’s family history. Stalin and the Soviet government used the cover and confusion of World War II to “cleanse” the Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, killing outright or deporting millions of people. Lina and her family live in Lithuania in 1941. Because of unknown “crimes,” 15 year old Lina, her younger brother and her mother are sentenced to 25 years of hard labor in Siberia. Only her mother’s sheer determination, her brother’s childlike innocence, and Lina’s love of drawing can sustain the family during their darkest hours.

The second, Hiding in the Spotlight, by Greg Dawson, is a biograhpy of the author’s mother, Zhanna.  Zhanna and her family were Jews living in the Ukraine during the start of World War II. Already suffering under Stalin’s brutal communistic policies, the people’s torment increased as the Germans swept into Russia. Soothed by false promises of kindness from both the Soviets and the Germans, Zhanna’s parents decide not to flee from the swiftly moving German army. Once the Germans reach their town, the Arshanskys soon realize their terrible mistake. Unable to save themselves, Zhanna’s parents manage to save their two daughters. Through the kindness of strangers, and using their amazing musical talents, the girls are able to survive the war in plain sight, by entertaining the Nazis.

Meg is a modern day woman who has no use for her great-grandmother’s diaries, as famous as they may be.  The diaries chronicle her great-grandmother Hannah’s arrival on the New Mexican frontier in the 1890’s, and Meg’s grandmother, Claudia, has spent her life researching the diaries and getting them published.  Meg has always lived in the shadow of the diaries, and has not even read them, until she is strong-armed into accompanying Claudia back to New Mexico to tie up a few loose ends.

Once Claudia and Meg arrive in New Mexico, new discoveries about Hannah’s life are made, and Meg begins to read the diaries.  She is instantly captivated by Hannah’s story, and becomes intent on solving the mystery swirling around Hannah’s death.

This is one of those books that takes awhile to get into, but once your are, you can’t put it down.  The strong female character, doing what needed to be done to survive on the frontier, reminded me somewhat of Turner’s These is My Words.

Evie and her family abruptly leave their New York home for an unexpected Florida vacation. While at first Evie believes that the family is merely celebrating her father’s safe return home from World War II Europe, she soon realizes that something is wrong. Secrets and lies are swirling all around her. But does Evie really want to know the truth, or will she allow herself to be blinded by her love of Peter, the handsome soldier who served with her father, followed her family to Florida, and is hiding a secret that can destroy them all?

I can’t say enough good things about this book.  It has so much going for it–accurate and interesting historical setting, real mother-daughter interactions, suspense, love, betrayal, moral dilemmas.  This is a quality and timeless historical fiction novel, and its themes of truth and betrayal will appeal to readers of all ages.

How did I not know about this book before now?  I LOVE Laura Ingalls Wilder and have read and reread her Little House series many times.  I just happened to stumble on this sweet novel by her daughter at the library.  While Lane writes with a completely different style than her mother does, her writing can stand on its own.  Lane tells of Molly and David, married young, who travel to the Dakota Territory to claim their own homestead.  When their carefully laid plans fall through, David must return East to seek work, leaving 16 year old Molly to care for their son, and guard the homestead.  If you’re a fan of prairie fiction, you will love this book.

This book has been added to my “to buy” list.  I also discovered that there’s a movie version of the book too, but only available in VHS.  Maybe we’ll need to dig out our VCR…

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