Well, it’s Thanksgiving, and I think it makes a lot of sense to write about this book. First of all, I am thankful that it is not the Holocaust. Second of all, Thanksgiving makes me think first about sweet potatoes (if there was a Boston Market in London–oh sorry I just jizzed in my pants), but second, always, it makes me think about genocide, which I understand is less pleasant than side dishes but nevertheless is the real meaning of Thanksgiving. Third, I was in Berlin for a few days, and a few architectural details at the Jewish Museum nearly made me vomit with an excess of feeling. Fourth, I went to Stonehenge today and in honor of recent birthday, threw my old fake ID away in the bathroom. So in general, tragedy, memory and resilience have all been on the brain.
This book was my introduction to the Holocaust and really to the idea that history is important. I remember reading it in third grade and, at the end, walking kind of blankly down to my family’s set of encyclopedias and looking up “Jew.” Number the Stars won the Newbery Award in 1990, and I think it is still assigned widely in elementary schools, as it should be. The way Lois Lowry is able to tell the most painful, deep stories through children and objects–it’s unforgettable. When the Nazis wake up the Johansen family in the middle of the night (remember, they’re trying to pass off Ellen as Annemarie’s sister, who died in the Resistance) and Annemarie rips off Ellen’s star necklace in the dark; when the Nazis insist on seeing baby pictures and you almost die with relief when it turns out Lise Johansen had brown hair as a baby–that shit is a fundamental life lesson about identity and cruelty and the absolutely arbitrary nature of both things.
Till the end it is complex and simple and lovely and sad. Remember when the soldier tries to look in the coffin and Annemarie’s mom gives him .05% back talk and he slaps her? Remember how Kirsti was obsessed with shiny black shoes? And when Annemarie goes on that scary, unknown mission at the end–carrying a package topped with a cocaine-laced handkerchief to numb the Nazi dogs’ sense of smell–it’s the most perfect scene of a little girl irretrievably growing up.