A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Author Shannon Cameron's narrative in Stefania's voice gives a vivid, compelling sense of the day-to-day realities of life under Nazi rule, and what it would be like to live under those conditions. Along the way, phrases in Yiddish and German are important in the story.
Strong messages of love, family, determination, resourcefulness, quick thinking, doing what you can to help -- and doing so while constantly terrified. Goodness and kindness can crop up in unexpected places.
Positive Role Models
A lot of stupid, vicious, ignorant, murderous people in this tale, and a lot of people who figure out how to protect innocents from them. Also characters who are more a mixed bag but who come through with unexpected kindness, cleverness at just the right moment. Stefania, 13 when the story starts and 16 when things get heavy, is brave, loving, determined to protect her adoptive family and her little sister, and others in peril. Little sister Helena, 6 years old, shows wisdom beyond her years, coming up with her own ingenious schemes to help foil Nazis and keep their hidden guests safe. Various members of the Diamant family take young Stefania in and show her more kindness and possibilities than she'd ever known, and a strong bond of love and loyalty develops between them.
Violence & Scariness
The story's barely under way before beloved characters fall prey to the Nazis and are brutally murdered, along with many other people as the story unfolds. The threat of death is constant, as is the fear of betrayal. A character is forcibly subjected to medical experiments. Beatings, robberies, trigger-happy Nazis are common.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
On more than one occasion, Stefania has to save her own and other people's lives by kissing a German, and to deal with attentions from guys she doesn't like or trust. A middle-age widow agrees to be the "girlfriend" of an older man if he gets her and her kids to safety. Nazi nurses in the building have live-in boyfriends with whom they party all night long. Some romantic undercurrents amid living together under close quarters and daily terror. In one tense interlude, a helpful neighbor who won't go away offers folk remedies for terminating a character's (imaginary, made up on the spot) pregnancy.
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A few butt references, mostly in Yiddish ("Nemen deyn tukis tsu shule") and curses, also in Yiddish. Some crude humor about men and pregnancy from the neighbors.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Adult characters smoke cigarettes (and complain bitterly when they can't get them). Adults drink alcohol, and sometimes do so to excess.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Sharon Cameron's The Light in Hidden Places is a historical novel based on the true story of Stefania Podgórska, who, as a teen in Poland, sheltered 13 Jews from the Nazis in the attic of the apartment she shared with her little sister. Before the story even gets under way, several members of the Jewish family who took her in as a 13-year-old Catholic farm girl have been brutally, heartbreakingly murdered by the Nazis, and atrocities (including shooting entire Jewish families and the Catholic families who sheltered them) continue throughout the story. What also continues throughout the story is indomitable spirit, unexpected kindness and luck, a lot of determination and quick thinking, and in spite of all the darkness, love. The book is a labor of love for author Cameron, who enjoyed access to Podgórska's memoir and family members and, according to Stefania's son, got his mother's voice just right.
Is It Any Good?
This riveting novel is packed with danger, tragedy, grief, and characters who stare at the face of pure evil and make the decision to get between it and their loved ones, whatever the cost. Nazis downstairs, 13 Jews hiding in the attic, and death around every corner is the day-to-day reality for a Polish teen and her 6-year-old sister. Based on a true story, The Light in Hidden Places shows the toll on daily life in a world where there's no hope, no good options -- yet still unexpected glimmers of kindness, love, and humor. Through it all, Stefania, aka Fusia, is a force to be reckoned with, as here, where she rescues her little sister from the farmer who's been physically abusing her:
"'God is going to pay you back,' I said.
"He looked a little startled.
"'For every time you hit her, I'm going to pray that a German soldier comes and beats you ten times with a club. And for every day you made her go hungry, I'm going to pray that you go ten days with nothing to eat and especially nothing to drink. I'm going to pray that you come out in boils. That you're bitten by a rabid dog. That your teeth turn black and your ... your parts fall off ...' I glanced down, and so did he. 'And that that nasty vodka you brew in that barn of yours rots you slowly from the inside out!'
"Mr. Zielinski opened his mouth. And closed it again.
"'And between the two of us, Mr. Zielinski, I think you know whose prayers God is going to answer, you miserable schmuck.'"
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.