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Posts Tagged ‘donna jo napoli’

This week seems to be moving along so slowly, probably because I’m on vacation all next week and want to be done with the work week already!  Since I haven’t written reviews for the 4 books sitting on my desk patiently waiting their turn in the spotlight, I thought I’d post some random updates.

First, I want to thank everyone for the birthday wishes.  You all made my day!  And thanks to my husband for holding a small gathering for me over the weekend, Serena and her husband for the awesome bookish gifts (the Jane Austen action figure rocks!), and to The Girl for making sure I didn’t have to do any housework on Monday and could put my feet up with a book after I came home from work.  You are all awesome!

Second, I just want to let you all know that I still don’t have an Internet connection at home, so it remains to be seen how often I’ll be able to post here or when I’ll have time for blog reading and commenting.  I’ll do my best to stay current, though, but please forgive me if I’m MIA — which will be the case when I’m on vacation next week.  Well, at least I can count on more reading time, since my vacation will consist of me sitting at home and relaxing.

Third, I want to direct you to my Examiner page, as I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Donna Jo Napoli, whose YA novels set during World War II are must reads.  (If you haven’t already, check out my reviews of Stones in Water and Fire in the Hills.)

Those of you still planning to complete the World War II reading challenge by the end of the year should consider Napoli’s books.  They are quick reads, with plenty of action and emotion to hold your attention at a time of year when everything is hectic.  (I can’t believe that I’m going to have to start Christmas shopping soon.  Where has the year gone?)

Have a great day, everyone!

© 2009 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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“Why did you join?”

“It doesn’t matter.  Everyone has a different story.  A German soldier shoots two men, and their widows, who never even liked each other before, find they are best friends.  They start a little band of resistance.  And they meet another woman whose father was killed, and she bands with them.  And another woman who was raped by a Nazi officer, and she bands with them.  And the girl who watched her mother get raped.  And the girl who watched her brother get arrested and dragged away.  Everyone has a personal story.  But in the end, they’re all the same.”

(from Fire in the Hills, pages 92-93)

Back in August, I reviewed Donna Jo Napoli’s World War II novel for young adults, Stones in Water.  Napoli tells the story of Roberto, a young boy from Venice, Italy, who goes to the cinema with his brother and some friends, and the Germans come in and round up all the boys and transport them to work camps.  Roberto successfully escapes from a work camp in the Ukraine, but he must make his way on foot back to Venice.  While I really enjoyed Stones in Water, I was a little frustrated with the open ending, and I was thrilled when Napoli e-mailed me to say there was a sequel called Fire in the Hills.

Fire in the Hills opens with Roberto still hoping to return to Venice (Note:  I’m not telling you anything big or giving away the end to Stones in Water).  He’s finally made it to Italy, but the German occupation means his hardships are far from over.  Roberto is alone and hungry, and while he’s grown up a lot since his capture, he’s really still a child.  He wants most to get back to his parents, learn what happened to his brother, and simply be safe.  However, he’s roaming through Italy depending on the kindness of strangers for food and shelter.  Roberto is recaptured by the Germans and eventually freed by resistance fighters, whose family takes him in.  While staying with this family, he meets Volpe Rossa (“red fox”), a young girl who is a member of the partigiani, the Italian resistance movement.  Roberto decides to reassess his priorities, putting his desire to see an end to the war above his desire to stay safe, and he embarks on a journey with Volpe Rossa and becomes Lupo (“wolf”).  As Lupo, he goes on many missions, mainly delivering messages and weapons to other resistance fighters — all as he tries to make his way back home.

Fire in the Hills is full of action and tension, and every time Lupo and Volpe Rossa came in contact with the Nazis, I was on the edge of my seat.  I’d grown attached to Lupo, and I could feel his fear.  I loved the character of Volpe Rossa, a young woman wise beyond her years, a leader with great strength.  She knows how to use her femininity and her beauty to her advantage and to advance the cause — and no matter what happens, she doesn’t want to be viewed as a helpless girl.  Napoli provides a lot of interesting details about the Italian resistance, emphasizing the role women played in helping bring the war to a close.  She also brilliantly captures the innocence of Lupo, his gentleness and respect for humanity, which he retains despite all of the horrific things he has witnessed.

Fire in the Hills is a wonderful conclusion to the story begun in Stones in Water, but it is a standalone book.  Napoli weaves the major events of Stones in Water into the narrative, so readers have enough information about Roberto and his experiences since the cinema roundup that they shouldn’t feel lost.  While classified as a YA novel, I would recommend this one for mature YA readers.  There is more violence than the previous book, and these scenes might be too much for middle-grade readers.  (Personally, I wouldn’t let my 9-year-old daughter read this book yet, and I think I’d even wait a year or two before giving her my copy of Stones in Water.  But I definitely will recommend these to her at some point.)

These are perfect books if you like historical fiction and would like to learn a little about the German occupation of Italy and the Italian resistance through the eyes of a young boy directly affected by the war.  They are short, but powerful, and because they are geared toward the YA market, they aren’t overwhelming in terms of graphic details.

Disclosure: I borrowed Fire in the Hills from the library. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2009 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Stones in Water by Donna Jo Napoli is a young adult novel set in Europe during World War II that focuses on Roberto, a young boy from a small village in Venice, Italy, who is captured by the Germans at a cinema in Mestre. One minute, Roberto, his older brother Sergio, and his friends Memo and Samuele are hoping to enjoy an American western, and the next minute, they’re being carted by train to a work camp far away from home and fighting for their lives.

Roberto is separated from Sergio and Memo, but luckily he and Samuele manage to stay together. Since the round up, Samuele has been going by the name Enzo to hide the fact that he is a Jew.

“They can’t kill someone just for being Jewish.”

“Listen to yourself.” Enzo’s voice grew hoarse. “Your insomnia — my nightmares — they don’t come from nowhere. They killed the boys on the train just for wanting to go home. They killed that boy at the first work camp just for fainting.”

…Roberto shook his head now. He wouldn’t believe Enzo’s words. He couldn’t. “My father brings home the newspaper every day. There was nothing in them about killing healthy Jews.”

“Some news doesn’t get printed.”

“But something like that, people would know. People would talk about it.”

“Jews talk about it.” Enzo rubbed his nose and looked away. “It hasn’t been going on all that long. It started in the spring. Death camps. They’re in Poland, I think.” The words came out with a slow deliberateness. Totally matter of fact, as though they weren’t the worst words in the world. “Jews are moved from the work camps to the death camps. There’s a work camp near Munich.” Enzo looked back at Roberto. “When our train pulled up to the Munich station, I figured I’d die there.” Enzo’s voice held the same tone it had when he came out of the water yesterday — the tone that was so terrible. The tone of resignation. (pages 60-61)

Roberto is an innocent young boy, but he learns right away the importance of quick thinking. He helps Enzo hide the fact that he is Jewish, and he shares his meager food rations with Enzo when one of the other boys discovers Enzo’s secret. When he and the other boys are forced to build a holding pen for Polish Jews, Roberto slips food through the fence to a young girl and her little sister, and he learns to steal clothes and shoes from the dead — including dead German soldiers — to keep warm during the brutal winter months. But his strength and maturity are put to the ultimate test in the Ukraine, when he escapes from a work camp and attempts to make his way back to Venice.

Stones in Water is a heartbreaking story of innocence lost to the brutality of war. Roberto’s eyes are opened wide to the true horrors of war, and he must rely on strength he never knew he had when he is on the run alone. I found myself tearing up when reading about the cold nights in the work camps, with Enzo telling Roberto stories from the Old Testament to put him to sleep. My heart broke for the characters not shown in the book, particularly Roberto’s parents, who must have been crushed to learn of their sons’ capture and agonized over whether they would ever be reunited.

The book is geared toward 8- to 12-year-old readers, with the war shown through young eyes. Roberto learns about the death camps from his friend, and his thoughts are those of a young boy, which will help young readers put themselves in Roberto’s shoes. There are scenes in which children are beaten, even murdered, at the hands of the Germans, and while these scenes are not overly graphic, I would recommend this book only for mature readers in the intended age group. In my opinion, this is more of a “grown up” children’s book about the war than Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars, in that more details are provided about the evils of war without overwhelming children with intense, graphic scenes of violence. Napoli gets the point across in as gentle a manner as possible while staying true to the darkness and harshness of the events depicted.

Stones in Water is a fast, engaging read, and I flew through the 209 pages in a day. It was interesting to see in the acknowledgments that the story is based “loosely (very, very loosely) on experiences of Guido Fullin during World War II.” I wish Napoli would have said what parts of the story were true and what parts were fiction, as I always find that fascinating, but the story was exciting nonetheless. However, I was a bit disappointed with the ending. It wasn’t a bad ending — there is a bit of hope after all, and Roberto shows much growth in character — but instead of hinting toward a new story, I wish Napoli would have resolved some of the loose ends. Still, Stones in Water is a worthwhile read, and readers both young and old can learn something from Roberto’s story.

Disclosure:  I purchased my copy of Stones in Water. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2009 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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