Monday, March 29, 2010

Review: The Year of Goodbyes

Summary: This book tells the true story of what happened to a 12-year-old girl named Jutta (Debbie Levy’s mother) in 1938. Actual entries in a posiealbum (autograph book) serve as stepping stones in a crucial year in history, when people of Jewish ancestry in Germany and Austria were systematically stripped of their rights, subjected to violence, and arrested without cause. Jutta was one of the lucky ones who escaped to America before the rising tide of violence erupted into World War II and the tragedy of the Holocaust. Remembrances from Jutta’s friends and relatives introduce chapters, written in verse form, that describe her experiences — many of them typical of any teenager anywhere — and report some of the history of the era. Debbie wrote these verses in consultation with her mother to reflect her voice, feelings, and thoughts as she was living through this memorable year. The book also includes excerpts from Jutta’s diary. Together the poesie writings, verses and diary entries reflect a year of change and chance, confusion and cruelty. Most of all, they describe a year of goodbyes. -- Disney/Hyperion

I think one of the best parts of having a book blog is that authors occasionally send me emails asking me to read their books. About a month ago, Debbie Levy told me about her new middle grade, non-fiction book called THE YEAR OF GOODBYES: A TRUE STORY OF FRIENDSHIP, FAMILY AND FAREWELLS. When I read the book's description, I instantly knew that I wanted to read this book. I have always been interested in books about the tragedy of the Holocaust, and this particular book sounded as if it approached the story in a very unique way.

THE YEAR OF GOODBYES is the true story of the author's mother Jutta, who was a twelve-year old girl living in Germany in 1938 just years before the Holocaust took place. This book includes actual snippets from Jutta's poesiealbum (basically an autograph book with verses, inscription, and drawings) as the chapter headings, and then the story continues in Jutta's own words. Ms. Levy wrote the book while working closely with her mother who lives nearby.

I can't even begin to tell you how powerful this book is and how much it affected me. Jutta is a normal young girl who attends school and has wonderful friends -- and she just happens to be Jewish. Her life seems pretty ideal until Hitler rises to power and the persecution of Jews begins. While no one really has any idea at this point that Hitler would attempt to eliminate all Jews, Jutta's father senses that his family will face danger and he does everything in his power to escape Germany. THE YEAR OF GOODBYES tells the story of Jutta's last year in Germany. It is a touching story about a young girl who has to come to terms with what is happening in her country, and at the same time she has to say goodbye to all of her friends and make a new start.

Of course, you can't help but be touched by any book surrounding the Holocaust; but I think THE YEAR OF GOODBYES affected me more than most because Jutta was such a normal young girl (in some ways she even reminded me of my daughter.) As I read the quotes from her poesiealbum, my heart just broke as these young girls tried to make sense of what was happening in Germany, as well as the persecution that their families were facing. Just imagine the fear and uncertainty that these children were living with day in and day out.

As I read this book, I found myself crying again over this tragedy. So many lives were destroyed for no reason -- I still can't believe it ever happened. Jutta
was fortunate in that her father was determined to have his family escape Germany. Her family missed out on most of the horrors that occurred, but many of her friends weren't so lucky. I was holding my breath as I read what happened to each of Jutta's classmates.

I thought Ms. Levy did a marvelous job of presenting with this book, and I'm so glad that she geared it towards middle graders. I loved how she used the poesiealbum as a starting point for Jutta's story, and the free form verse in Jutta's words was absolutely beautiful. I also liked how this book had actual photographs of Jutta and her family, as well as a timeline outlining Jutta's life and what was occuring in Nazi Germany. The author also included a very helpful Afterword which explained how she went about writing this book as well as what happened to Jutta, her family and her friends after the book ended. I realize that the story is true, but all of these "things" contributed to the book being even more real to me!

THE YEAR OF GOODBYES would make a wonderful mother-daughter book club selection. Our group read a book about Anne Frank's life a few years ago, and I thought it was a great way to introduce a discussion of the Holocaust. However, THE YEAR OF GOODBYES would be an even better book for young girls to read and discuss. The story takes place before many of the true horrors of Nazi Germany, and I think girls will relate to Jutta and her family and friends. There is a wonderful discussion guide available which includes discussion questions, enhanced writing activities, and an interesting author interview. THE YEAR OF GOODBYES would also be an excellent choice for teachers to use in the classrooms.

I really can't recommend THE YEAR OF GOODBYES enough. I read it in one sitting and I was absolutely hooked on the story. I can't wait to pass this one along to my daughter so we can read and talk about it together. I have a feeling that this is one book that we will read over and over again.



Thanks to the author for sending me a copy of her book.

14 comments:

Hannah Stoneham said...

This sounds like a powerful and moving read and an interesting window into history. i am particuarly interested in the idea of the author writing the story of her mother - as I have recently read another book written on this basis - Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa Mohamed. Glad that you enjoyed this book and thank you for sharing such a lovely review of it

Hannah

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

Oh wow this sounds fantastic! Excellent review!

bermudaonion said...

This does sound like a wonderful book. I think of the fear they lived in while they were in their native Germany and the fear they faced when they immigrated to a new country with unfamiliar language and customs. It's all so tragic.

A Bookshelf Monstrosity said...

Ooh, I haven't heard of this one. Thanks for your review :)

Mary said...

What a great review, Julie. Sounds like a wonderful book.

Susan said...

I only skimmed your review, because I just got this one, too. I can't wait to read it, especially after your high recommendation!

writergal said...

Excellent review. This sounds like a powerful and resonant read.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

This sounds so good. And I never heard of the word posiealbum for autograph book! Interesting!

Beth(bookaholicmom) said...

Great review. I am putting it on my wish list. It sounds like it is an amazing read.

Bonnie said...

This sounds like a wonderful book Julie. Thanks so much for telling us about it. I am definitely going to look for a copy for several reasons. My mother's name is Jutta and she was born and raised in Germany. I am also drawn to Holocaust stories fiction and non-fiction and WWII books.

Alison said...

I too am especially moved by books set during WWII, but The Year of Goodbyes looks like it was done especially well. Thanks, Julie, for your review, and for once again adding to my TBR pile.

Tribute Books said...

Great review,will definitely add to my list.

Cindy Hudson said...

Love your review Julie. I agree that in some ways it may be more accessible for young people to learn about the Holocaust that The Diary of Anne Frank. At the least, it's a good companion piece.

Beth F said...

This is new to me and sounds like one that I should read.