I occasionally veer off into young adult fiction, usually because my daughter is reading something she thinks I would enjoy or would like to have someone with whom she can discuss the book. Once in awhile, I even pick up a YA series just because it sounds interesting and I feel like a lighter read.
Probably my favorite young adult books are The Giver quartet by Lois Lowry. But despite my love for that series, I’d never read her Newbery award winner Number the Stars. So when I saw it on Kindle Unlimited, not long after a conversation with my older daughter about whether my youngest would read it in 4th grade as she did, I decided to finally give it a read.
The story is actually rather sweet. Not the word that one would generally use to describe a Holocaust story, and yet it is the word that best captures my overall impression of the book. Rooted in history, brought to life with charming characters that are immediately likable, simultaneously frightened and courageous, and imbued with an innocence that is a stark counterpoint to the horrors of war and genocide unfolding largely outside of the main character’s understanding, the book is deeply moving and startlingly positive.
Written for a younger audience than The Giver, Number the Stars faces the Holocaust head-on but with a message of hope. The story is not about the horrors perpetrated on the Jews of Nazi-occupied Europe. It is about ordinary people doing the right thing despite great personal risks, and difference such bravery can make in the world.
While the story is not without loss or danger, it is at heart a profound affirmation of the goodness of humanity. The afterword, which explains briefly where the line between history and fiction lies, is a moving testament to the power of the seemingly powerless. With straightforward themes about the goodness of everyday people and the protective force of community, it is the sort of read that just leaves the reader feeling hopeful and perhaps restores a tiny bit of the cynic’s lost faith in humanity as a whole.