Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Odette's Secrets by Maryann Macdonald

Every once in a while there comes along a book that I feel absolutely must be shared with as many young people as possible.  Odette’s Secrets, a young adult historical novel, lovingly and painstakingly crafted by Maryann Macdonald, is one of those rarities.  It tells the story of the Holocaust, a dark period that must never be forgotten, through the eyes of a child.

Told entirely in blank verse in the voice of a young Jewish girl, the book is filled with black and white photographs from the Meyers family album.   The story begins as Odette is beginning to realize that things for Jews are changing in Paris.  Life becomes defined by hiding, secrecy, and loss.  The Meyers family is not religious, so Odette struggles with understanding what it meant to be a Jew.  To keep her safe, Odette’s mother sends her to the French countryside to attend a convent school, with instructions to blend in as a Catholic orphan.  

Odette’s new life is much better, with room to play freely without food rationing and the fear of soldiers.  She is filled with confusion about her identity, as she is living out the lie that was designed to protect her.  She feels drawn to the Holy Family of Baby Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and Joseph, and finds comfort in the nativity scene.  She misses her mother, but never wants to go back to Paris.

Odette’s mother joins her when Paris becomes too dangerous for her to continue her secret work.  She does not blend in as well as her daughter has, however, and when the children become suspicious Odette is chased down and beaten up.  Although a friend and protector is able to convince the country folk of the family’s story so they can continue living there in peace, Odette is never able to trust her friends again.

When the war ends, Odette and her mother return to Paris, where Odette must confront the reality of the suffering that the Jews have endured.  Only then can she finally come to terms with who she is as a girl and a Jew.  She is reunited with her father, now a prison camp survivor, who brings her the gift of a diary in which to write her story. 

Maryann Macdonald has written more than twenty-five books for children.  While living in Paris, she discovered Doors to Madam Marie, the autobiography of Odette Meyers, who grew up to be a poet and university professor.  She became fascinated by Meyers’ story and personally visited the places where she had lived and played as a child.  Meyers passed away in 2002, survived by her son Daniel, who provided Macdonald with additional materials and permission to write his mother’s story for children.

This is a story that will draw young readers in and keep them turning the pages.  It tells the sorrowful truth in a sensitive way that is age-appropriate, yet never condescending.  Young people and their parents can benefit from reading this book concurrently.

Odette’s Secrets by Maryanne Macdonald
Published Feb. 26, 2013
240 pages, Hardcover, $16.99
Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Ages 10 and up

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