Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Book Review: Odette's Secrets, by Maryann Macdonald (Bloomsbury, 2013)
Please note: The Fourth Musketeer will feature an interview with Odette's Secrets author Maryann Macdonald on April 25.
World War II seems to supply authors, whether those for children or adults, with an inexhaustible supply of true stories for inspiration. Author Maryann Macdonald turns to historical fiction in her new novel, Odette's Secrets, about a young Jewish girl in Paris during the Nazi Occupation. Odette's story is told in spare free verse; we meet her Polish-Jewish parents who have immigrated to Paris with their only daughter Odette. Odette is beloved by her gentile godmother, the concierge at her building, and has a comfortable existence until her father joins the French military, is taken prisoner by the Germans, and conditions began to worsen considerably for the Jewish population of Paris. Soon the round-ups of foreign-born Jews begin, destined to be shipped off to the East. Odette's mother, realizing the danger, makes a plan for her daughter and the daughters of other friends to go stay with family friends in the Vendee, outside of Nazi-occupied France, where she will be in safely in the countryside with plenty to eat.
There's one wrinkle--Odette must forget that she's a Jew. She must blend in perfectly with the village children, learn how to cross herself, say Catholic prayers, attend mass, eat pork, in other words, do nothing that could distinguish her from other children in the village. She becomes very good at keeping secrets--even from her closest friends. But when her mother flees Paris to join her, suspicion follows them just the same. Can they stay safe? And what will happen after the war ends? Will her father and other relatives find them back in Paris?
This is a moving, small novel that can be read quickly but delves into real issues of prejudice, bravery, and how ordinary children can survive in dangerous and extraordinary times This novel is inspired by the life of the real Odette Myers, a story the author discovered while doing research in a Paris library; she was helped in this project by Odette's son, Daniel, who shared family photos and experiences. Highly recommended.