The Light in Hidden Places

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Light in Hidden Places Book Poster Image
Riveting true tale of Polish teen, Jewish family, Holocaust.

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Kids say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

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.

Positive Messages

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 & Representations

There are 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 come through with unexpected kindness and 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

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, and trigger-happy Nazis are common.

Sex

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 the 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.

Language

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.

Consumerism
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.

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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Teen, 14 years old Written byLivie Grace March 24, 2020

Amazing and addicting to read

This book is so great. It's actually addicting to read and is very hard to stop. Although, at times it can be hard to follow but it gets better as it goes... Continue reading

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 Nazia 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?

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