Then by Morris Gleitzman
|Then by Morris Gleitzman|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: A holocaust story of great pain combined with courage and hope. It's beautifully written and observed and is accessible on every emotional landscape.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 192||Date: January 2009|
Then we ran for our lives, me and Zelda, up a hillside as fast as we could.
Which wasn't very fast.
Not even with me holding Zelda's hand and helping her up the slope.
You know how when you and your two friends jump off a train that's going to a Nazi death camp and you nearly knock yourself unconscious but you manage not to and your glasses don't even get broken but your friend Chaya isn't so lucky and she gets killed so you bury her under some ferns and you haven't got much energy left for running and climbing?
Well, I didn't know, but I do now. These are the opening lines of Morris Gleitzman's Then. Don't they just grab you? Your heart's pounding. You're shocked. You're a little bit afraid, even though you're not on a hillside fleeing from the Nazis; you're at home, on the sofa, reading a book. But I bet your adrenalin is flowing. You're not quite excited, not exactly, it's too awful for that. But the fight or flight response is there, isn't it? And there is no way you're going to put this book down until you've found out what happens to Zelda and Felix and whether or not they make it to safety.
It's Poland. It's 1942. Felix is a ten year-old Jewish refugee who's doing his best to evade the Nazis since they killed his family. Zelda is a six year-old orphan and Felix has taken her under his wing. Together, they've formed a family in extremis. But Zelda isn't Jewish. Her parents were Nazis, something she's finding difficult to come to terms with now she's seen some of the things that Nazis do. She denounces the soldiers and the regime at every possible turn, which isn't particularly helpful when you're on the run.
Taken in by a farmer's wife, the two children hope to hide out until the war is over. But with Zelda's increasingly public anti-Nazi rhetoric and Felix's nemesis, a bully who's determined to reveal him as the Jew he suspects him to be, danger lurks around every corner.
It's tense, it's direct, it's dangerous and heartbreaking. But Then is also full of goodness, courage and hope. It also has a wild humour that sometimes arises in the most desperate situations and so the book has moments of great catharsis. It's written for people thirty years younger than me, but I genuinely couldn't put it down. I laughed, I cried, I read so quickly that I completely ran out of breath. I can't imagine what more you could ask from a book than that.
Felix and Zelda's story began with Once. Read both books as soon as you can.
My thanks to the good people at Puffin for sending the book.
You can read more book reviews or buy Then by Morris Gleitzman at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Then by Morris Gleitzman at Amazon.com.
Then by Morris Gleitzman is in the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize 2009.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.