Odette’s Secrets by Maryann Macdonald
This true story of a young Jewish girl growing up in Nazi-occupied Paris is told in verse. Odette’s father is sent to a Nazi work camp and her mother works hard to protect Odette. As the Jews in Paris are steadily more badly treated, Odette has to wear a yellow star on her clothing and is unwelcome in many places in the city. Even at school, Odette is bullied for being Jewish. When their apartment is raided in the middle of the night, Odette and her mother hide in their landlady’s cupboard. After that, Odette is sent to the country to live. There she learns to pretend to be Christian so that she isn’t discovered. When her mother is forced to flee Paris, the two of them move together to live in the French countryside as peasants, but Nazis and bigotry are never far behind. Odette learns that sometimes secrets are vital to survival and just as hard to stop keeping as they are to keep.
Macdonald writes in her author’s note about the inspiration for creating a children’s book that tells the story of the real Odette. It is interesting to learn about the transition from straight nonfiction to a verse novel. I’m so pleased that the end result was this novel in free verse, because Macdonald writes verse with a wonderful eye to both the story she is telling and the poetry itself. She truly creates the scenes of Paris and the French countryside in her poems, making each place special and amazing.
Perhaps most amazing is Odette herself, a protagonist living in a brutal and complicated time, forced to lie to stay alive. Odette has to learn to deal with the fear she lives in every day, something that no one should have to get used to. There was the fear of slipping and telling the secrets she held but also the fear that someone could figure out they were Jewish without any slip from Odette. Macdonald creates quite a dramatic series of events that point out that Odette was terrified for very good reason.
Beautiful verse combined with a true story of a young girl World War II France makes this a very successful book that cuts right to the heart and lays all its secrets bare. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Bloomsbury.