by Maryann Macdonald
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's
Reading level: MG
Book type: verse novel
For Jews in Nazi-occupied Paris, nowhere is safe. So when Odette Meyer’s father is sent to a Nazi work camp, Odette’s mother takes desperate measures to protect her, sending Odette deep into the French countryside. There, Odette pretends to be a peasant girl, even posing as a Christian–and attending Catholic masses–with other children. But inside, she is burning with secrets, and when the war ends Odette must figure out whether she can resume life in Paris as a Jew, or if she’s lost the connection to her former life forever. Inspired by the life of the real Odette Meyer, this moving free-verse novel is a story of triumph over adversity.
(synopsis from Goodreads)
The free-verse format works well for historical fiction. Blocks of almost-poetry can help tell a story about the past without ending up sounding like a textbook. That's the case here, in this based-on-real-people-and-events story about a young Jewish girl from Paris who escapes the war by living as a Christian in the French countryside.
I'm not generally a fan of books about the Holocaust. I find many of them too depressing. This book is a bit different in that, while it is about the Holocaust, the more gruesome events are on the periphery of Odette's world. That's not to say that nothing bad ever happened, but Odette was one of the lucky ones. According to the author's note at the back (which is a fascinating must-read after you've finished the book), 84% of France's Jewish children survived... more than in any other European country. Odette's story gives us an idea of how that happened.
A unique touch (and something that's not always possible with straight fiction) was the inclusion of photographs of the people in Odette's life. It was wonderful to see the actual faces of the characters in the story.
I really have no major complaints with this book. The writing is accessible and helps us understand the world of a child during wartime. Fans of historical fiction and novels written in verse will probably find much to like about Odette's Secrets.
Overall: 4 out of 5