The Power of Historical Young Adult Fiction

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Spoilers!

The future unrolled before her like a ribbon: sleeping with a chair hooked under the doorknob every night, beating carpets on the back steps, cooking the boarders’ breakfast, scrubbing the toilets, changing the linens, pouring fresh water in the basins, haggling with vendors at the Viktualienmarkt, fighting the nightmares about Papa, imagining his bloody body in the street and herself unable to help as his chest stilled and his eyes grew blank.

Tears locked her throat. She hadn’t been able to save her father, but she could save other people, someday. She walked faster. Nobody understood her ambitions except Uncle Dolf. He battled his life, as she did, searching for something bigger something meaningful.

-Prisoner of Night and Fog, Anne Blankman

Poetic, lovely, earth-shattering, heart-breaking…this book was so many things. Even though Prisoner of Night and Fog came out in 2014, I feel grateful that I only read it now. If I had to wait a year for book 2, I probably would’ve cried.

But back to the genius, Anne Blankman.

I’m not usually a fan of historical fiction, but she made me a convert. Told in the third person, Blankman’s writing style is beautiful. Stunning and seamless writing.

Prisoner of Night and Fog weaves fictional characters in with real life historical figures from Hitler’s inner circle: Eva Braun, Geli Raubal (Hitler’s niece), and Dr. Edmund Forster.

Blankman transported me to 1930’s Germany. The cobblestone streets, gray skies, shoddy boarding house, and dinners at Uncle Dolf’s house—I could see it all. And told through the eyes of fictional protagonist Gretchen Müller, well, I’ve never been more curious about a time period I thought I knew all about.

Horrifying beginnings are laid out through the interesting fictional character of Dr. Whitestone, a psychiatrist from England studying Hitler.

Prisoner of Night and Fog focuses on attitudes toward Jews, which informs the reader about specific prejudices and fallacies young people like Gretchen were fed then.

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One of the great subplots was the love story between Gretchen and Daniel. Perfection.  Blankman stayed true to the times and gave a sweet and poetic portrayal of the connection between these two. Romance fans will approve!

And as a rabid romance reader myself, I can envision their marriage and life together after the fall of Hitler. Unpolluted adoration, devotion, and care. It’s the best of great love.

That light was definitely needed.

When she realizes she’s falling for Daniel, she pushes through the vicious prejudice and lies planted by Uncle Dolf. Those scenes—told through a 1930’s lens—are still relevant today.

Past memories of Gretchen’s father and Uncle Dolf, paint a clear picture of Gretchen’s life and innocence, before everything changes.

 Had she become that horse—beaten and bloodied but still serving its master without question? A beast of burden. An easily dismissed pet.

Someone who was so scared she would choose the familiar lies over the truth?

Prisoner of Night and Fog, Anne Blankman

I never contemplated Hitler’s inner circle, which is odd now that I think of it. I mean there’s always an inner circle. A monster does not get there on his own.

And Prisoner of Night and Fog makes you want to read up on the real players: Eva Braun, Geli Raubal, Dr. Edmund Forster.

The character that stands out to me still is Geli Raubal. She was Hitler’s half-niece and great love, allegedly?!

Geli is really one of the accidental stars of this story. The details of her personality, her take on Hitler’s possessiveness, and even her room and hat shopping were interesting to me… I’m curious about this golden girl who cared for (and possibly loved?) one of the most infamous psychopaths in history. Did she kill herself? Or was she murdered?

As a freelance writer who specializes in mental health, I was hooked on all the psycho-analysis segments with Dr. Whitestone and Dr. Forster. But now, all I can think is holy **** what did Hitler’s parents do to him? Because even with the war and resulting PTSD… those events alone are not enough to change a man into the demonic monster he became.

(I already ordered Blankman’s recommendation, Explaining Hitler.)

I read a piece by the great psychoanalyst, Alice Miller a few years ago. She wrote about Hitler and his childhood. This book made me think of that essay, immediately.  Read it here.

This book to me was all about origins. The same with slavery, genocide, and other atrocities, we should never forget the inner, personal evil that sparked it.

I can’t help but think of what Chris Rock said in his Vulture interview a couple years ago…

But the thing is, we treat racism in this country like it’s a style that America went through. Like flared legs and lava lamps. Oh, that crazy thing we did. We were hanging black people. We treat it like a fad instead of a disease that eradicates millions of people. You’ve got to get it at a lab, and study it, and see its origins, and see what it’s immune to and what breaks it down.

5 stars and beyond. Another shining example of the power of the Young Adult genre.

 

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