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A Fuse #8 Production
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Review of the Day: Someone Named Eva (Part One)

eva Review of the Day: Someone Named Eva (Part One)Someone Named Eva by Joan M. Wolf.  Clarion Books (a Houghton Mifflin imprint). $16.00.  On shelves now.

Don’t blink or you’ll miss it. The arrival of a noteworthy work of historical fiction for kids tends to work one of two ways. Either the marketing machine behind the book hits bookstores and libraries full-force, cramming said book down everyone’s throats until they yield and make it a bestseller/award winner… or nothing happens at all. The book slips onto shelves without so much as a squeak, never insisting that anyone go out of their way to find it. "Someone Named Eva" belongs firmly in the latter camp. It’s small and subtle and extraordinarily good. The kind of WWII children’s fiction other authors should look to emulate, given the chance.


Eleven-year-old Milada remembers the night. The night when there was pounding on the door and Nazis in her Czechoslovakian home. The night when her grandmother pressed a garnet pin into her hand and told her to never forget who she was. But since that time Milada had a difficult time keeping that promise. Having been forcibly removed from her family and taken to a bizarre Nazi-run girl’s school, Milada quickly learns the reason for her presence in the Lebensborn center; her shiny golden hair and bright blue eyes. Renamed Eva, Milada is part of a system intent upon turning her into a "good" German citizen. The kind of place where she can be taught the evils of the Jews, the glory of Hitler, and the joys of being adopted into a real German family’s home. Based on events following the destruction of Lidice, Czechoslovakia, author Joan Wolf tells of the real Lebensborn center in Poland, the crimes it committed against an untold number of girls during WWII, and what it takes to stay true to your heritage.

Did you notice something? Read the summary again. That’s right. We’re dealing with a WWII children’s book that doesn’t focus primarily on Jewish children. Not that there’s anything wrong with more Holocaust novels, of course. They’re often quite stunning. Just the same, there are an awful lot of them out there. So much so, in fact, that when I picked up this book and looked at the cover I decided on the plot immediately. Something along the lines of, "Ah. Here is a book about a blond Jewish child who passes as Christian so that she won’t be sent to the concentration camps with her family." I was more than a little shocked when I sat down to read and found that my smug summary was way off base. In fact, my surprise didn’t end there. Again and again, Wolf was able to give me facts from the time period that I had never ever encountered before. These included the fact that German women were awarded the "Mother’s Cross" when they increased the number of children in their home. Who knew? Also, as someone who was more than a little peeved at how The Boy in the Striped Pajamas chose to ignore the fact that living outside a concentration camp meant dealing with a constant, pervasive, horrible smell, I appreciated that Wolf makes it practically the first thing Milada notices when she moves in with her new "family".

It’s very instructive to watch how Wolf uses names in this book. The only other person in Lebensborn that Milada knows is Ruzha, a sullen mean-spirited girl from her home village. After the scene where each girl is given a new name, Ruzha becomes Franziska. Right from the start the girl embraces her Nazi teachers and their philosophy. It is worth noting then that as an author, Wolf often refers to Milada by her old name (at first) but rarely does the same with Ruzha. That particular girl’s transformation is quick and complete. You get the feeling that when the war is done she will be happy to remain with the German family she has found, in spite of the continuing existence of her real parents. Of course, much of Ruzha’s back story is left unknown. We don’t know what kind of life or abuse she may have suffered in her own home. To be transported from a place where she was unhappy to a world where her teachers praise and seemingly love her is mighty significant. Though you may disagree with it, you understand where Ruzha is coming from.

Wolf is also very good at displaying the effectiveness of intense psychological brainwashing. When Milada says that, "it was hard to remember that I wasn’t a Nazi, that I didn’t want to be the Aryan ideal, that I hated Germany," you understand why she says this. The psychological damage inflicted on these girls must have been intense. Little wonder then that, as Wolf mentions in her Author’s Note, "Very little has been written in English about the Lebensborn centers that housed kidnapped children, part of which may be due to the fact that so few children were found after the war." What’s more, Wolf knows how to manipulate her reader so that we find ourselves in the same position as Milada. When she realizes with a shock that she can’t remember her old name, I challenge you to remember it yourself. It’s gone and as she wracks her memory, we wrack our own. Such a clever technique.

For the record, I also can’t help but note that I never saw where the novel was going. Once Milada was in the school I wondered if this would turn into a kind of child vs. the establishment type of story. I couldn’t imagine that that would be a good way to go, and indeed it could have been catastrophic to the novel. So while the sudden mention on page 100 that all the girls will now be adopted into new families shouldn’t be shocking, it truly is. Sometimes the most obvious turns of fate are the least expected.

(CONTINUED IN PART TWO)

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Elizabeth Bird About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently New York Public Library's Youth Materials Collections Specialist. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of NYPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.

Comments

  1. Lane Bowls says:

    This is a great book about a girl who is
    not afraid of anything except who she is going to be in the future

  2. For me to know and you t find out says:

    Wow! This book was one of thebest books I have ever read.

  3. Hanna Mae says:

    I loved this book! I loved all the characters in this book!!! This book is awesome. Infact, I’m doing a book report on it! Any tips?

    -Hanna Mae

  4. Sodagirl says:

    It was really good, and i’m not surprised it is one of 2009-2008 Bluebonnet books!!

  5. avery says:

    I’m in the middle off reading it, and i can’t seat it down! It’s a very good book. I wish I Joan Wolf would write another book just like!

  6. Undefined says:

    Very good. A work of art.

  7. Laken says:

    I LOVE THIS BOOK IT IS SOOOOO GOOD !I couldnt put it down all afternoon I started on 84 today and ended on 200 !!!!

  8. Meagan says:

    I LOVE THIS BOOK!! It’s my favorite book ever. It taught me SOOOOO much!!

  9. Addison Leonard says:

    I just finished the book loved it i want to buy it and read it 1000000000000 times!

  10. CASI says:

    This is my fav book ever and i first read it last year and i have read it like 14 times each year i take it out of my school library but soon i will be getting my very own copy! (i’m a bookworm) lol!

  11. Alicia says:

    This is a great book I’m in the middle of it and I love it!

  12. Jacob Andrzejak says:

    This book SUCKED! I had to read it in a week. Worst week ever!

  13. Anja says:

    Best book i EVER read!

  14. Vanessa says:

    HEY…this was such a great read and loved how Elsbeth and Milada/Eva fought so dramatic!!!!

    _ Vanessa M.

  15. hello! says:

    that is not nice

  16. fyrtufvgj says:

    it is a sad book

  17. Lolo says:

    it is a beehive nominee book

  18. chrissy bear says:

    This book was soooooooooooooo good! I stayed up all night reading the rest of it for my book report!

  19. lissette says:

    THIS BOOK IS AWESOME!!!!

  20. Noraaa says:

    Milada & her Fam[ily] <33
    Nice/sad book . (:
    Loved itt

    -Nora

  21. nazis says:

    best book i have ever read im doing a book mueseum thing and out of all the books ive read this is my fav

  22. Jessie says:

    OMG. I am ten, and I loved this book!!!

  23. Uhm. says:

    I loved this book!
    Sad yet happy.. (:

    <33

  24. bubbles says:

    I read this book twice and I still love it!

    Read it in school for a project then out of school just because. =)