Beginning in 1940 when the Germans occupy Holland, Hendrik Vandinther faces the restrictions, isolation, and ultimate removal of his Jewish friends from Amsterdam and engages in rogue activities to smuggle Jews to safety, thanks to a newfound friend, ship captain Old Sea Dog. In an epilogue, Hendrik travels to Yad Vashem to receive a Righteous Gentile honor, reuniting with his Jewish childhood friends who survived.
The good things
- Voice—From the opening chapter, Hendrik sounds like a 12-year-old boy, upset that his father has to answer a distress call from a boat at sea instead of celebrating his birthday at home. Although the book takes place during World War II, kids today can relate to his sensibilities. The first person voice for Hendrik allows him to furrow deep into his emotions and his relationships with his father and friends.
- Relationship with Papa—The strong bond is evident between Hendrik and his father. Papa provides many enduring teaching moments to the impetuous Hendrik.
- The disappearances—How Hendrik handles the dismissal of his friends from his classroom and their ultimate is touching and even poignant in places. Spring captured the feeling about an incredible, senseless void—not an easy thing to do.
- Photos—This was great for creating some context. I especially like the cover. The photo of this boy captures Hendrik’s spirit—he’s got a bit of mischief in his eyes.
- Kid appeal—Hendrik is a likable character and I think kids could relate to his view of the world.
- Dialogue—Hendrik and a couple of his friends often speak in preachy speeches. I might expect that from Hendrik’s father, but the dialogue is not kid-friendly. I couldn’t differentiate one kid’s dialogue from another’s.
- Contemporary clichés—At times, the word choices sound too contemporary. Examples: “made a beeline” and “my name would be mud.”
- Setting—I did not get a consistent feel of Amsterdam and couldn’t feel that I was there.
- Pacing—Way too fast. I wanted the book to go much deeper into feelings and events, especially the danger of helping Jews escape. That would have set me up better for the ending at Yad Vashem. Also, the brief dialogue with Pigeon did not prepare me enough for the ending.
- Author’s note—I was hoping for an author’s note that would detail how Spring conducted research for the book. I wanted to know whether she visited Amsterdam and what she learned there. Did she personally visit Yad Vashem?
This is an important story to tell, but I wanted more—more setting, more depth, more characterization, more history.
Rating—3.5 out of 5