05 December 2009

Yellow Star

by Jennifer Roy

Walker Books. History, Junior, Young Adult. Paperback rrp $14.95

Guest Reviewer Jo Burnell

I have a weak stomach. Even though I want to hear about war and those who survive, I rarely persist when the story gets too dark. Yellow Star gathered dust on my ‘to read’ pile for many months before I picked it up.

To my delight, I was riveted. Jennifer Roy achieves what few others have managed. Simple words, clear images and page-flipping suspense in a frightening world where hope rose and fell at the trigger of a gun.

Over the course of World War II, 270,000 people were forcibly settled in Lodz, Poland. At the end of the war, 800 survivors walked through the cut wire fence that had been their prison. Twelve of these survivors were children. One was ten-year-old Syvvia Perlmutter, Jennifer Roy’s aunt.

Jennifer’s short lines of prose evoke strong images. I am with the Perlmutters as they struggle to survive. The vegetable patch fails and flour is scarce. I sip weak coffee and thin vegetable broth. My mind becomes foggy from lack of food.

Gut feelings guide Syvvia’s father not to accept Nazi invitations to ride on trains. People disappear without a trace and there are several close escapes. Yet in the midst of all the fear, hope remains. Syvvia’s ability to entertain herself when her friends are gone brings normality to a desperate situation and her innocent comments trigger laughter when joy seems lost.

However, it is Syvvia’s role in the last days that come as the greatest surprise. My mind still boggles at the nature of the final rescue. For one tiny moment in history, the yellow star was a key to survival.

By crafting the content of her aunt’s memories, Jennifer Roy has resurrected a child’s perspective that ages over the years. This unique voice strips away what I call literary ‘fluff’. What is left is heart-stopping simplicity. Yellow Star is a timeless treasure.


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