Sunday, July 15, 2012

"Once" "Then" and "Now" by Morris Gleitzman

This is a series of three book (the fourth is coming out in a few months) that first follow a boy in the Holocaust and then jumps to his life seventy years later. The first two books are amazingly emotionally charged while the third book loses some of the magic. It is still a great series.

Once begins with a naive Felix who was sent to an orphanage by his parents three years ago. He receives what he believes to be a sign from his parents that they're coming for him but instead sees men (Nazis) coming and burning books. Fearing that his parents (booksellers) are in grave danger, Felix leaves and tries to warn his parents. For most of the novel Felix believes this horrible situation is about book or specifically Jewish books. Along the way he meets Zelda, a six-year-old whose parents he discovered shot dead. He rescues Zelda, only to be caught by the Nazis. He is rescued along with Zelda  and hidden but is still under the illusion that his parents are out there and he needs to find them. When he finally realizes the truth, he is devastated and with the Nazis in town, he has to find the strength and courage to save himself and those he loves that he can still save.

Then begins right after Once. Felix and Zelda are on the run from the Nazis. They both know the truth about their parents and now believe the only way to survive is to find new parents. With a few more shocking discoveries about what the Nazis are capable of, a kind woman finds the children and brings them into her home, dyes their hair and passes them off as her niece and nephew. It sounds easy enough, but when Felix makes an enemy out of a town bully, he has to be extra careful not to be caught with his pants down (literally). With the Nazis always around, Felix knows that even with the help of a friend in the Hitler Youth, the only way to protect his loved ones is to leave, but can he save them before it's too late?

Now jumps about 70 years and changes narrators. Now the story is about Felix's granddaughter Zelda (obviously named after his childhood friend). She's living with Felix in Australia while her parents are saving lives in Africa. As the new girl in school, she suddenly becomes the target of bullying, a fact that Felix is extremely sensitive about. All of that gets put aside, though, when a horrible bushfire starts and threatens to destroy the town, forcing Zelda to be brave like her namesake.

The first two books have an amazing voice. Felix is only ten and believes in storytelling and how with the right story anything is possible. His naivety is so believable you feel horrible that he's experiencing all of this without realizing the severity. The first two books just have so much emotion that you get sucked in and cannot put it down. You are one with these characters to the point that I was yelling at the second book when certain events took place. They are powerful and what's nice is that they are a really quick read. It's great storytelling to get in that emotion in under 200 pages. Something gets lost in the third book, however. The voice isn't as strong in the third book. The story didn't draw me in as easily as the first two books, quite possibly because it didn't have the back story of the Holocaust to have this constant threat to the characters. It did pick up when the bushfire started, which is based on Australia's Victorian Bushfires of 2009. Maybe there is something to be said about background knowledge when reading books because I knew nothing about those fires so I had no connection to that storyline whereas I do know about the Holocaust so I was able to connect more to those books. That's not to say that the third book doesn't have it's positives. When the fires start the story gets bumped up a notch. Zelda also does have a unique voice - she really wants to please her grandfather and is a bit paranoid, which is why she desperately wants to be brave like the original Zelda. She's just not as strong a character or storyteller as Felix.

I really enjoyed this series, especially the first two novels. All of the books are under 200 pages so they're all quick reads but with a lot of depth. The third book is the only one that seems to lack something but this is definitely a series that should be read.

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