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What 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.
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What's the story?
THE LIGHT IN HIDDEN PLACES begins in 1936 in the small town of Przemyśl, Poland, where 13-year-old Stefania Podgórska is thrilled to leave the family farm and go to work for the Diamants, a Jewish family who keep a store in town. In a few years, she's practically family, and indeed she and Izio, one of the sons who's in medical school, are in love -- something they keep to themselves because she's Catholic and he's Jewish. Then the Nazis take over the town, and she's left alone in their house as the family's dragged off to the ghetto. She takes in her 6-year-old sister, Helena, who's been left to a brutal neighbor after the Nazis take her mother and brother to a work camp, leaving the farm to ruin. All the while she spends her days scrounging food and supplies for the Diamants and figuring out ways to get it all to them. But soon the killing in the ghetto ratchets up, the death camp trains are running nonstop -- and one night Max, the oldest Diamant son, jumps from one of those trains and knocks on Stefania's door in the middle of the night.
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.'"
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the Holocaust -- and specifically about the many people, like Stefania in The Light in Hidden Places, who took enormous risks (and often paid the price) to protect those the Nazis targeted and victimized. Have you read or seen other stories of people who escaped the Holocaust and those who helped them? What do you think made these people go to such lengths, often to protect strangers, while others just stood by?
If someone you loved was in danger and needed your help, but you'd be risking your life if you gave it, what do you think you'd do? What would you have to think about first, if anything? What if it was a stranger instead?
Do you think something like the rise of Hitler and the Nazis could happen today? What do you see in the world that makes you think that way?
- Author: Sharon Cameron
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Topics: Activism, Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, History
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Scholastic
- Publication date: March 16, 2020
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 18
- Number of pages: 400
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: March 31, 2020
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