Last month I reviewed Lois Lowry’s The Giver very positively — it’s an absolutely great novel, for young readers and adult readers alike. So I had high hopes for another novel by Lowry, Number the Stars — hopes which were almost, but not quite, met.
Don’t get me wrong: the Newberry-winning Number the Stars is a quite good book. Set during the German occupation of Denmark in WWII, Number the Stars tells the story of young girl Annemarie, whose family takes in their Jewish neighbor — Annemarie’s best friend — and ultimately helps their family escape Denmark.
Number the Stars tells an amazing story: after the Nazis announced the deportation of Denmark’s Jewish population, the Danish people hid and smuggled out of the country almost the entirety of Denmark’s 7,000 Jews, mostly across the channel to Sweden. To the occupying Germans, it seemed like the Jewish population they knew was there simply vanished, virtually overnight. The courage of the Danish population, who risked imprisonment and death if caught, cannot be underestimated.
Simply told through the perspective of Annemarie, Number the Stars proceeds smoothly enough, and maybe that’s my problem — there simply aren’t enough pages in this slim volume to give more than a rough impression of the mounting terror the Jewish population (and their non-Jewish neighbors, for that matter) faced. That said, it’s a fast-moving and ultimately heart-warming story, with both the personal triumph of Annemarie over her own fears and feelings of uselessness and powerlessness in the face of forces she cannot understand, and the wider tale of the triumph of the Danes over the Germans.
For younger readers — 10 to maybe 14 or so — who might not understand the subtleties of a book like Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl, I would strongly recommend Number the Stars (though with a lot of parental guidance to grapple with the enormity of the Holocaust). Older readers might not find it as rewarding as a book like The Giver — the story is much more direct and straight-forward, and there’s not much moral wiggle room when it comes to opposing Nazis. Best to move on to the work of Elie Weisel or Primo Levi for readers over 16.
Read more about Number the Stars on Lois Lowry’s site.