The Length of a String
Elissa Brent Weissman, Author
Dial Books for Young Readers, Fiction, May 1, 2018
Suitable for Ages: 10-14
Themes: Adoption, Identity, Family relationships, Jews, African Americans, Holocaust
Imani is adopted by a Jewish family. Now that she’s turning 13, she knows exactly what she wants as her big bat mitzvah gift: to find her birth parents. She loves her family and her Jewish community in Baltimore, but she has always wondered where she came from, especially since she’s black and almost everyone she knows is white.
When her mom’s grandmother–Imani’s great-grandma Anna–passes away, Imani discovers an old journal among her books. It’s Anna’s diary from 1941, the year she was twelve and fled Nazi-occupied Luxembourg alone, sent by her parents to seek refuge in Brooklyn, New York. Imani keeps the diary a secret for a while, only sharing it with her best friend, Madeline. Anna’s diary chronicles her escape from Holocaust-era Europe and her journey to America and her new life with a Jewish adoptive family. She continues to write to her sister Belle about the tall New York sky scrapers, shopping in supermarkets, eating Chinese food, modeling fur coats, and playing Chinese checkers, until news about her family stops. She fears the worst and puts down her pen.
Imani decides to make Anna’s story her bat mitzvah research project. She uncovers some important information about the war and Luxembourg. As Imani reads Anna’s diary, she begins to see her own family and her place in it in a new way.
Why I like this book:
The author skillfully weaves two stories, one from the present and another from the past, using characters that you will feel like you know intimately. This is a very different holocaust story because it focuses on the identity of Jewish and African-American girls (70 years a part) and their search for self, something that readers will find relevant. The setting, the unforgettable characters, and the plot create an engaging reading experience. The ending is unexpected and very satisfying.
You learn about Anna Kirsch and the painful decision her family makes in deciding which of their seven children to smuggle to America as the Nazi’s begin to occupy Luxembourg. Anna is selected and separated from her identical twin sister, Belle, the other half of her heart. On the ship she begins to write Belle daily letters daily chronicling her journey so that she keeps their connection alive. Anna lives with loving strangers, Hannah and Max, a Jewish family who open their hearts and home to her. Anna is essentially adopted, like Imani. She continues to write to Belle about her adventures until news about her family stops.
My children are adopted, each responding differently like Imani and her adopted El Salvadoran brother. Like Imani, my daughter had so many questions about her past. What were her ethnic roots? Who did she look like? Why was she adopted? Like Imani’s family, we ran a genetic DNA test for our daughter so she had a sense of her heritage. This eventually led to her finding two biological sisters this past year. Now she has answers and it has brought her peace as an adult. We need more MG and YA books for adopted children who are trying to figure out who they are and need to see themselves in stories.
Elissa Brent Weismann’s novel is a captivating story that is a departure from her humorous Nerd Camp series. Her website includes teacher resources and curriculum for all of her books.
Greg Pattridge is the host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.