Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Big War: The Upstairs Room by Johanna Reiss

"Okay, Okay." Dientje ran over to us. "They're here. They're here!" She closed up the hiding place with the piece of wood. We heard her lower the shelf and close the closet door. We heard her footsteps as she ran down the stairs.

Footsteps. Loud ones. Boots. Coming up the stairs. Sini put her arms around me and pushed my head against her shoulder.

Loud voices, Ugly ones. Furniture being moved. And Opoe's protesting voice. The closet door was thrown open. Hands fumbled on the shelves. Sini was trembling.... I no longer breathed through my nose. Breathing through my mouth made less noise.

Annie and her older sister Sini de Leeuw go into hiding in 1942 as the Germans begin to round up Dutch Jews for labor and death camps. The girls are placed by the Resistance with an seemingly ordinary Dutch farm family, the plain-spoken Johan Oosterveld, who, along with his wife Dientje and mother Opoe, are the real heroes of this autobiographical account which eerily parallels the experiences chronicled in Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. Unlike Anne Frank, Annie's story has the happy difference that author Johanna Reiss lives to write, as an adult, the gripping tale of her three years in hiding, a time of both mind-numbing boredom and incredible terror as the Nazis one by one ferret out Jews hidden nearby by the Resistance.

As Reiss writes, Annie's voice is that of a ten-year-old, separated from all but one sister, longing to feel the sun on her face and run free, and yet learning from smuggled Resistance newspapers of the gas chambers and slave labor camps which will be her fate if she is discovered. At times, both girls despair, feeling that capture and death may be better than their virtual imprisonment in the upstairs room. Ultimately it is the loving kindness and courage of the Oostervelds and other families who risk their lives to hide them which give the de Leeuw girls strength to hold out until their liberation in the spring of 1945. A poignant afterword describes Reiss's return visit to the Oostervelds with her own two young daughters, as she shows them how she climbed into the hiding place behind the false closet when the Germans searched the upstairs room.

The Upstairs Room was named a Newbery Honor Book and is followed by The Journey Back: Sequel to the Newbery Honor Book The Upstairs Room which documents with equal depth and honesty the immediate postwar years of the reunited de Leeuw family.

For mature young readers, these two memoirs provide a way to experience firsthand what this momentous period in history was like with someone whose skillful writing puts the reader there with her in the upstairs room.

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  • This is a GREAT book. I have clear memories of reading it in 5th grade.

    By Blogger Mary Martha, at 10:45 AM  

  • this is a gay ass book piece

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:58 PM  

  • can u put how many pages is there cause uh i forgot bitch

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:00 PM  

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