November 2, 2015
The Safest Lie by Angela Cerrito
The Safest Lie
by Angela Cerrito
Anna and her parents have spent another restless night. Anna and Mama slept curled together for warmth and comfort. Papa kept watch. The two men they share an apartment with may be fellow Jews but the Baumans don’t know them. Trust is hard to come by in the Warsaw ghetto.
Before the war, Anna had many aunts, uncles, and cousins. She had grandparents and traditions. Now she has fear.
Then a woman named Jolanta insists that Anna call herself Anna Karwolska. She must say Catholic prayers in Polish and cross herself. She must also tell people that her Mama and Papa, are dead.
Nine year old Anna is soon spirited out of the ghetto and hidden away in a Catholic orphanage. She has to tell people she is only 8, but no matter where she is there are some things Anna knows. Soldiers’ stomping march means trouble. Whether they are looking for food, Jews, or Polish conspirators , Anna must hide her fear.
Anna’s greatest worry is that being Jewish will endanger the family who agrees to give her a home. Even after the German soldiers leave Poland, she is afraid that if her new family discovers she is Jewish they will somehow love her less. It is only when a man comes to take her back to whatever family she has left that Anna tells them the truth, a truth they knew all along.
Admittedly, I don’t read many books about World War II. Because I read extensively on this topic when I was younger, it is hard to find a book that feels fresh. It is no exageration when I tell you that this is one of the best books that I’ve read in a long time. I didn’t want to put it down. I wanted to keep on reading even when I had deadlines of my own to meet.
The characters are truly three-dimensional and that includes the German soldiers. It is so easy to portray the common soldiers as jack-booted thugs. While Angela doesn’t portray them as better than they were, she doesn’t paint them all with the same brush. Some were cruel. Others less so. The Polish are treated with just as much care; as one of the characters points out, in times of war it is hard to know who to trust. There is just too much at risk.
Take the risk of picking this book up for the young readers in your life. It is a younger middle grade title and well-suited to the age group. Yes, the realities of the war are grim but Angela handles it so that the violence is muted, off-screen, and age appropriate.
She has created so much more than a book about war. This is a story of identify, hope and strength.