Toronto: Scholastic, c2010.192 p.
This is another juvenile book I read recently. I love Marsha Skrypuch's work; usually her books deal with an Eastern European theme (mainly Ukrainian, but she's also written about Armenia). She is involved in educational forums as well as teaching writing in respected programs like the Humber School for Writers (so jealous of those attendees!)
In this brief tale, she takes on the little known Nazi program called the Lebensborn. With this program, the Nazis planned to steal children from Eastern European countries who both looked Aryan and met exact and rigorous physical measurements the Nazis believed were definitively Aryan, in order to bolster the numbers of the Master Race. This book is the story of Nadia, a young girl who has just immigrated to Canada in the immediate post-war years. She is troubled with memory loss and no understanding of the flashes of fancy dresses, big houses, and Nazi uniforms that keep appearing in her mind. She has come to Canada under the care of Marusia and Ivan, loving surrogate parents who keep reminding her that she must call them Mother and Father if they are to stay together under immigration rules.
However, as it turns out, Marusia is not Nadia's birth mother - but when love and care are considered, Nadia realizes that Marusia has saved her life. As her memories come back, and as she begins to feel safer in this strange new country, Nadia's world changes. Was she really a Nazi, as some of the mean boys at school taunt her? Can she even really call herself Nadia? How she deals with the realization of the truth of her life and what has happened to her is a gripping tale for middle school readers. Skrypuch does not shy away from the harsh realities of life under Nazi rule; she also does not skim over the emotional trauma suffered by Nadia. Even in such a brief tale, there are turns of phrase that can say so much yet stay within the reader's age range and level of comprehension (thematically, not just with vocabulary). It is a touching story of the triumph of courage and love in a terrible time, and ends on a note of hope for the future.
I was impressed by the finely crafted shape of this book. It takes a difficult and little known subject and makes it instantly recognizable through strong characters and a well developed sense of place. Also, on a personal note, there are wonderful depictions of a library and a kindly teacher both of which prove vitally important to Nadia's recovery. I loved them both. Skrypuch has illuminated a very difficult subject to write about for children, and made it a fascinating read.