Linked

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Linked Book Poster Image
Swastika in middle school launches complex, uneasy tale.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Lots of detail about surviving -- and not surviving -- the Holocaust, including story of French Jewish babies left with Catholic nuns by their desperate parents, raised with no knowledge of their origin to protect them from the Nazis, and only discovering the truth in late adulthood. The real-life story of a Tennessee middle school that set out in 1998 to collect six million paper clips to commemorate Holocaust victims inspires a similar effort in Linked. Details about Judaism as one character prepares for his bar mitzvah, seeking help from a classmate and a rabbi. Also details about activities and painstaking attention to detail as part of an archeological dig.

Positive Messages

Strong message of respect, tolerance, teamwork, and standing up to those engaged in hateful bullying. Equally strong message of not being defined by your own stupid or negative behavior, but looking for ways to make things right and make yourself better -- as a character puts it, "We all do jerky things. It's what you do next that matters." As another character says, "A paper chain can be done when it hits a certain number of links. But tolerance is a project you always have to keep working at." At the end of the book is a list of resources to combat antisemitism, Holocaust denial, racism, and intolerance.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Characters represent a range of attitudes, from moral outrage over hateful behavior to supporting the hate (or at least thinking it's no big deal). As story unfolds, many show unexpected qualities, for good and ill -- the paper chain project generates team spirit, empathy, internet fame, which leads to still more epic kindness and astonishing hatefulness. A fateful prank involves lots and lots of manure. Along the way, insights and wisdom emerge. Link: "We can't change the past. All we can do is work hard to make things right in the future. I promise that, for me, that starts now." Rabbi Gold: "God forgives us -- and by doing that, God shows us how to forgive each other. Even more important, those of us who've been forgiven spend the rest of our lives trying to be worthy of that forgiveness." In terms of representation, Michael is Dominican, Dana is a Jewish kid from New England, Link has just discovered his family's Jewish roots and is now preparing for his bar mitzvah.

Violence

The deaths of millions in the Holocaust become the focus of a memorial effort that's important to the plot. In the past, the Ku Klux Klan held a notorious cross-burning rally in the town, and some characters' family members were involved.

Sex

A boy and girl, now in seventh grade, have been playing at breaking up and getting back together since they were practically toddlers.

Language

A character tells an obnoxious vlogger, "Please don't take it personally when I tell you where you can stick your millions of followers." Occasional "butt" and "moron."

Consumerism

Zoom plays an important part in the story, as do FedEx, UPS, Marvel comics. Occasional mention of real-life products for scene-setting purposes. An online vlogger exploits and manipulates events to promote his channel.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Linked is bestselling author Gordon Korman's story of swastikas that show up in a small-town Colorado middle school and the Holocaust memorial project that's launched in response. The title refers to central character Link, the six million links in a commemorative paper chain, and the various connections that bind us. A whole lot of buried history comes to the surface as chapters are narrated by various seventh graders -- especially Michael, a Dominican kid who's also the art club president; Dana, a Jewish kid from New England whose parents are working on an archeological dig outside of town; and Link, the jock/prankster/most popular guy on campus who's just discovered his family's Jewish roots and is now preparing for his bar mitzvah. It takes on prejudice and hate, but it's complicated, with unexpected results aplenty, from global outpourings of kindness to discovering a dark side to people you've known all your life. There's also an internet vlogger who's all too happy to exploit the whole situation for ratings. The story offers lots of positive messages, especially about acceptance and diversity, and the fact that while you can't change the past, you get to choose what to do about it and what to do going forward. Feel-good moments, dramatic reversals, and surprise revelations are plentiful. Easy answers? Not so much, as doing the right thing is a nonstop work in progress.

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What's the story?

In the small town of Chokecherry, Colorado, everybody's known everybody else for generations, and the biggest excitement in decades comes from the discovery of possible dinosaur poop outside of town, bringing in a team of archeologists. That changes as LINKED opens with a huge, hideous swastika painted on the wall of the middle school. As some members of the community reel in shock, others hint at the town's Ku Klux Klan past, and the whole middle school gets nonstop tolerance education while more and more swastikas pop up all over campus. A student decides to fight back with a paper chain of 6 million links commemorating the victims of the Holocaust, and soon the whole school and half the internet are on board. Meanwhile, Link, perpetrator of many pranks and most popular guy in the seventh grade, is shocked to learn he's actually Jewish. Turns out his grandmother was left at a Catholic orphanage as a baby by her desperate parents in France and kept safe by nuns who hid her origin. She only recently learned the truth herself. The revelation gives him a whole different view of the swastika: "I can feel the hair on the back of my neck standing up at the sight of it. I picture Grandma, as a tiny baby, being handed over to total strangers. And never seeing her family again." So, to his family's astonishment, he starts studying for his bar mitzvah. Soon he and the paper chain have both gone viral around the world. Complications ensue.

Is it any good?

There are lots of relatable moments and few easy answers in this positive but unsettling tale of swastikas in a small-town middle school and the Holocaust memorial project that springs up in response. As the town grapples with the unexpected hate eruption, more surprises, revelations, and plot twists emerge, and characters see a different side of people and places they've known their whole lives. The results can be life-changing: "It seems like a million years ago that I was an ordinary kid who thought nothing was more important than some upcoming sports season and my next dumb prank with Jordan and Pouncey. I barely even noticed the scientists' kids, and Jewish was something somebody else was in places far away from Chokecherry. I'm not sure I was happier then, but my life was a lot less complicated."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about hate speech and the hateful use of swastikas in Linked. Have you found yourself in a situation where someone you know and like says something hateful -- about someone else, or about you? How did you feel? Was there anything you could do to express that?

  • In Linked, an old Catholic woman discovers her origins as a Jewish baby saved from Nazis by French nuns. Do you know anyone who through DNA testing has learned that what they've always been told about their family and ancestors isn't quite correct? How do they feel about it? How do you think you would feel?

  • Have you ever gotten involved in a big project or event that had people from all over the world participating online? What did you do? How did you like it?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love activism and learning about the Holocaust

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