I’ve posted several World War II fiction titles recently — just what’s happened to cross my plate lately. That war, particularly the Holocaust, continues to inspire so much children’s literature. This novel is based on a true story…
Odette’s Secrets, by Maryann Macdonald
published in 2013 by Bloomsbury
“Bombers fly over Paris at night.
Wailing sirens announce their arrival.
We rush into the basement shelter.
We huddle in the dark,
holding our breath,
waiting for crashes.
One lady wearing a lace nightgown
thinks she can hear them nearby!
But then the all-clear siren comes,
and we creep back up the stairs.
Our building is still standing.
We go back to our beds…
Finally Aunt Georgette and Sophie can’t take it anymore.
They have Christian relatives in the country.
They write a letter
asking to stay with them.
Before long, the relatives write back.
Aunt Georgette and Sophie are welcome.
So they pack their things and hug and kiss us goodbye…
Mama and I are alone again.”
Odette is a little girl, about five years old, living in Paris. It’s 1939, France has begun her war against Hitler, and Paris is about to be occupied by the Nazis. Odette’s parents are Polish Jews, and as the Germans come to power, Odette discovers that being Jewish is a deadly offense. After months of strain and danger, Odette is sent by her mother to a country village where she puts on a new identity — she’s Jewish no longer; now she is a good Catholic.
For three years, from 1942-1945, Odette’s life depends upon her keeping this and other critical secrets. Living this double life causes her to ask many deep questions of herself and others, about who she really is, and why. Her poignant story, told in free verse, gives us a distinct picture of life in war-torn France, and explores questions about religion, identity, and belonging.
Odette Meyers and her mother
Odette Meyers really did lead this life and wrote an autobiography. Maryann Macdonald conducted extensive research on her life, even interviewing Meyers’ son and meeting one of the family who sheltered Odette in her adopted village. So, although this is fictionalized, it’s largely true, which of course makes it all the more compelling. The authentic details effectively sweep us into this world.
Good book club read for middle-grade girls with the many issues of identity it raises, and the extensive reflection about religion which does not make it into many novels for this age group. You also might consider this for a reluctant reader: novels in free verse may feel less daunting.
A timeline, Author’s Note, and numerous historical photos are included.