Rating: 5 stars
“My Family for the War” by Anne C. Voorhoeve is a story about Jews during World War II, told with a slight twist. The protagonist is Jewish through her ancestry, but is actually a practicing Protestant. Hitler and his minions do not care.
Franziska Mangold leaves Germany on a kindertransport — where thousands of children between the ages of four and sixteen went to stay with families in England. Frances, as she comes to be called, is very lucky and ends up with an Orthodox family who take her as their daughter.
Voorhoeve explores many themes in this hefty book (400 pages). The Shepard family includes Amanda, who was born Amanda O’Leary. She converted to marry into the Jewish family, but even with the conversion, her husband’s family barely speaks to them. Her own Irish family has absolutely nothing to do with them. Gary, their son, enthusiastically makes Frances his adopted sister.
When the bombing of London begins, Frances is sent out of the city with other children. Her new temporary home is much worse than expected. She is basically expected to work and eat table scraps. But Frances’ character is strong, and she manages to shame the family into treating her better.
Will she ever be reunited with her parents? Does she even want to be reunited with her parents? How does a child who was raised to go to church and wear a cross adapt to living with practicing Jews?
While the horrors of the concentration camps are only vaguely alluded to, young readers will learn much about the other Jews who were affected by the war. Voorhoeve’s pacing, characters and dialogue make this a book that is difficult to put down. In spite of the 400 pages, it becomes a fairly quick read. The first person narrative works well as readers gain insight into Frances’ feelings about her mother, her adopted parents and even her relationship with God.
There is humor, also, for Jewish readers. Frances looks at the mezuzah on the doorframe and thinks it’s a tiny mailbox. Her new family explains Jewish customs and tradition to her and it will fascinate non-Jewish readers, also.
This is a book that should be a part of every classroom collection of historical fiction. It rounds out the stories with a realistic, albeit fictional, account of the Jewish children who left Germany to grow up in safety with other families.
Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Dial, for review purposes.