All He Knew by Helen Frost

All He Knew cover image

All He Knew by Helen Frost (9780374312992)

Henry started out life talking and able to hear, until a fever took his hearing as a small child. By the time Henry is six, he is labeled as “unteachable.” He is turned away from the school for the deaf after failing their test, refusing to blow out a candle when asked. His parents are encouraged to send him to an institution where he will be cared for. Given their lack of money during the years before World War II, they reluctantly agree. Henry is sent to Riverview, where his life becomes bleak, food is often scarce, children are beaten and restrained. He makes some dear friends there though, working to protect and care for them even as the system works to tear them down. When World War II starts, Victor arrives at Riverview. He’s a conscientious objector, sent to work as an attendant there. He quickly learns that Henry is far from unteachable, reaching out to Henry’s family, including Henry’s beloved sister who has always seen that Henry is smart and kind.

Frost is a master at the verse novel, creating entire worlds that spin by with her poetry. Here the verse draws readers into the darkness of Riverview. One could get caught in that dark, but Henry is there to show a way to see the squirrels outside the window, make friends with some of the other children, and find a way to live one day at a time. While he misses his family horribly and does not understand what happened to make them send him there, he understands much more than everyone thinks he does.

Frost keeps hope at the center of the book. She uses both Victor and Henry’s sister and family members in this way. They all love Henry, trying to figure out how best to deal with an impossible situation exacerbated by poverty and wartime. But hope really is an inherent part of Henry himself, who faces every day and its brutal challenges with a touch of humor, a courage to defend his friends, and a determination to survive.

An important look at how those with disabilities were treated in our country and how conscientious objectors made a difference in their lives. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

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