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The Borrowed House by Hilda Van Stockum

This book is set in Holland during the Nazi occupation of World War II. Janna is 12 and lives in Germany. She is a member of the Hitler Youth and believes in her country and her leader. She has been apart from her parents for two years. They are well-known actors and are traveling, entertaining the German troops. They are currently in Amsterdam and have procured a house to live in, so they send for Janna. The house they are living in belonged to the Van Arkel family, a well-to-do Dutch family who have been evicted from the house from the occupying Germans for their own use. Janna and her parents share the house with another German family, a couple and their young son. Janna’s mother is close with a Bavarian officer, whose connections got them the house. As Janna looks through the house and sees the possessions of the Van Arkel family, including a girl her age whose room she is occupying, she begins to wonder about the family. She also sees how the Nazis treat people out in the street. This, combined with discussions with her Dutch tutor and overhearing the Bavarian officer criticize the Nazis, leads to a slow realization that what she has been taught in the Hitler Youth is not the truth. She and her mother develop compassion for the victims of the Nazis, while their father remains loyal. When Janna discovers that a boy named Josef is hiding in a secret room in the house and then learns that he is Jewish, her moral integrity is tested verses the Nazi propaganda that has been indoctrinated in her. Janna chooses to protect Josef and keep his secret from her parents.

An exciting story that is not too graphic in its depiction of Nazi horror to be inappropriate for mature middle schoolers, though it does mention Nazi euthanasia of older people and the gas chambers in the death camps, so children should have already been introduced to the Holocaust before reading it. A criticism is that it really doesn’t show the true Nazi horror – Janna and her mother as well as the Bavarian officer are sympathetic to the victims and Janna’s father is ignorant of the true evil that is happening. The book may paint too flattering a portrait of German citizens, since many Germans hated Jews and informed on them and condoned or participated in the violence and horror, but as a coming-of-age story about Janna and her self-actualization, it a fine story, and as historical fiction, it teaches about the Dutch Resistance and the dangers of prejudice in a manner suitable for middle schoolers.

 

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