Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Great Escape by Megan Rix

Robert Edwards, 12, and sister Lucy, 9, love their three pets - rambunctious Jack Russell terrier Buster, older, wiser sheepdog Rose, and Tiger, a marmalade cat who loves his creature comforts.  But now, it is September 1939, war has been declared and London might be unsafe once it really gets under way.   Mr. Edwards is a reconnaissance pilot for the RAF and Mrs. Edwards is a nurse on a floating hospital on the Thames.  And so, the children are to be evacuated to their grandmother's in Devon.  This is the farm where Rose used to herd sheep before the children's grandfather died suddenly and it is a place that Rose longs to return to.

But before Robert and Lucy travel to Devon, it is decided that neighbor Mrs. Harris will keep their pets for which she will receive some remuneration unbeknownst to her husband.  Trouble is, Mr. Harris doesn't like animals and resents the money needed to feed and care for the pets when he could be spending it in the pub.  And so, it is off to the animal shelter to have them put down behind his wife's back.

The line is long and before they get inside, the animals manage to escape from Mr. Harris and run away.  Now that they are on their own, where to go?  Rose seems to have an idea, but it is a long way home.

Believing their pets are safe and well cared for, Robert and Lucy arrive in Devon, only to be met by their grandmother's neighbors, the Fosters.  Their grandmother hasn't been acting right lately, and the Fosters thought it would be better for Robert and Lucy to stay with them.

As the children settle in with the Fosters, Buster, Rose and Tiger begin their long trek across southern England in the direction of Devon.  Learning to work as a team, they manage to find enough to eat most of the time, but as the weather gets colder, the trip becomes harder and harder.  Along the way, each animal is caught and cared for by someone, until they decide it is time to rejoin their companions and resume their trip west.

Will the children and pets ever be safely and happily reunited?

The Great Escape is a heartwarming, exciting novel.  It is an adventure story about courage, survival and loyalty.  And not just the loyalty of pets to their owners, but of friends and family to each other and to their pets, as well.

The story reminded me somewhat of Robert Westall's book Blitzcat, about a black cat that goes looking for its true human, a pilot in the RAF during WW2.  But unlike Blitzcat, The Great Escape alternates between the animal's journey, the children struggling to adjust to new circumstances especially to their new school and their grandmother's increasing dementia, their friend Michael, who has been allowed to remain in London and help his father with his activities at NARPAC (National Air Raid Precautions Animals Committee) and who is frantic over the disappearance of his friend's pets.  Michael is also an animal lover and is upset at the growing number of pets that are not roaming the streets of London or being put down by people frightened by rumors that when the Nazis invade, they will infect the animals with rabies.

Part of Rix's purpose in The Great Escape is to make readers aware of the fate of these wartime animals.  She writes in her Afterword that over 400,000 cats and dogs are put down with only 4 days time at the start of the war.  Ironically, by Christmas, there was a shortage of dogs that could be trained for search and rescue purposes once bombing began.  You can guess that Rix is an animal lover in the same vein as Robert, Lucy and Michael.

The Great Escape is a perfect novel for any animal lover and perhaps an eye opener for those folks who might no love animals as much.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was purchased for my personal library

I have only come across one other story for young readers about NARPAC in WW2 and that was in an old Girl's Own Annual, Volume 62, published circa 1940 and called Nancy and NARPAC by Phyllis Matthewman.  If anyone knows of other NARPAC stories for young readers, I would appreciate hearing about it.

A list of Megan Rix's Top 10 Wartime Animal Books can be found HERE 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Escape from Berlin by Irene N. Watts

Escape from Berlin is an omnibus of three of novels, each of which had been previously published by Irene N. Watts, and have now been reprinted for the 75th anniversary of the Kindertransport on December 1, 2013.

The Kindertransport was a short-lived program that rescued 10,000 Jewish children from Nazi Germany and other occupied countries in the 9 months before the outbreak of WWII.  Arranged by British Jews and Quakers, the Kindertransport began on December 1, 1938, spurred on by the devastation of Kristallnacht on November 9, 1938 when Jewish stores, building and synagogues, as well as Jewish homes and schools were destroyed and 30,000 Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps.

The first novel, Good-bye, Marianne, tells the story of Marianne Kohn, 11.  It begins on a day shortly after Kristallnacht, when she arrives at school dreading a math test, only to find herself locked out of the building with no explanation.  Her father, a book seller, has already disappeared and she and her mother don't know where he is.  They later find out that he was picked up on Kristallnacht and had escaped on his way to a concentration camp and has been living in hiding ever since.  Mrs. Kohn volunteers at an orphanage and one day tells Marianne that the orphans are being allowed to leave Germany and go to foster families in England.

Now that she isn't in school, Marianne becomes friends with Ernest, who is visiting the landlady of the Kohn's building with his mother, and who can't wait to be old enough to join the Hitler Youth.  Eventually, the Kohn's are told that Jews can no longer live in their apartment and must move out.

As luck would have it, one of the children is unable to travel with this first Kindertransport and Mrs. Kohn secures the spot for Marianne, who really doesn't want to go, but agrees to for her mother's sake.  Just as the train is leaving Berlin, Marianne is asked to look after a little girl.  Sophie Mandel, 7, and Marianne bond during the trip, but lose track of each other once they are in England and sent to different families.

Remember Me is the second novel and it follows Marianne's life as an refugee in England.  And life with the Abercrombie Jones' is anything but pleasant, despite their wealth.  Their goal for Marianne, whom they now call Mary Anne, is to become a servant once she turns 14.  She is given a cold room in the servants area and is expected to help out Gladys, their present servant, with various chores as part of her training.  Mrs. Abercrombie Jones criticizes everything about Marianne, even her German accent.  In addition, she has no regard for the fact that Marianne is Jewish and forces her to go to church and eat pork.

But at school, Marianne meets Bridget O'Malley and soon the girls are good friends and concocting a plan for bringing Marianne's parents to England, making flyers to slip under doors in the hope someone will need her mother's services.  Soon though, Bridget will be going to another school and the girls dread being separated, until some luck comes Marianne's way and she is offered a scholarship to the same school.

But Marianne and Bridget are finally separated when they are evacuated because of war.  Marianne is sent to Wales, where she is first placed in a Methodist home for unwed mothers.  But she is cast out when they discover she is Jewish.  Next, Marianne is sent to a family that has just lost a daughter and see Marianne as a replacement, even changing her name.  When their delusion is broken, they, too, turn on her.  Fortunately, Mr. Evans, in charge of billeting evacuees, likes Marianne very much, but he must find another place for her, which turns out to be a wonderful surprise for her.

Finding Sophie begins with Sophie Mandel, now 14 years old, filling in for the reader what had happened to her immediately after parting from Marianne in 1938, as well as recalling memories of her life in Germany before she left on the Kindertransport.  Lucky Sophie went to live with her mother's old friend, Aunt Em and was loved and well taken care throughout the war.  After 6 years living in England, Sophie has become fully assimilated to life there.

But now that the war is almost over, Sophie is afraid she will be sent back to live with her parents in Germany, whom she no longer thinks about very much, and realizes she doesn't even remember how to speak  German.  Now she must struggle with the guilt of not wanting to leave England and Aunt Em.

On VE day, May 8, 1945, as Sophie and her best friend Mandy wait in front of Buckingham Palace with thousands of other people waiting for the Royal family and Prime Minister Winston Churchill to come out, she notices a young nurse looking at her oddly and has a strange sensation she know the nurse.

In alternating chapters, the reader also catches up with Marianne, now a young women in nurses' training.  She also thought she recognized someone on VE day at Buckingham Palace.  As it turns out, Sophie is a Junior Red Cross volunteer at a hospital, and one Saturday, she is put on a different floor, where she and Marianne finally recognize each other.  Sophie has some difficult times ahead of her now that the war is over, and Marianne and her still best friend Bridget provide the understanding moral support young Sophie needs now.

These three interwoven stories give the reader such a good picture of what the Kindertransport was like for these young refugees.  Some were welcomed with open arms, others faced the same kind of racism and hate they had experienced in their homeland, still other, like Marianne, were seen a free labor.  All three stories are realistically and poignantly written.  Watts was part of the first Kindertransport at the same age as Sophie, and perhaps that is why she was able to capture so palpably the fear and reluctance   Marianne and Sophie felt leaving their homes and parents for the unknown.

Each of the books in Escape from Berlin were previously published as stand alone novels, but I think reading them together gives a much clearer, deeper appreciation of what Marianne and Sophie went through.  Finding Sophie is much more of a coming of age story than either Good-bye, Marianne and Remember Me because she is so young when she arrives in England and at just the right age of finding out who she really is when the war ends.

Escape from Berlin is a book that will appeal to anyone who like good historical fiction and I highly recommend it.

This book is recommended for readers age 13+
This book was an E-ARC received from NetGalley

Monday, February 17, 2014

No Surrender Soldier by Christine Kohler

No long ago it was announced that the Japanese soldier Hiroo Onoda, who had hold out 29 years in the Philippine jungle, refusing to believe that WWII had ended and that Japan had lost the war, passed away at 91 years old.  But Onoda wasn't the only holdout.  Soichi Yokoi was stationed on Guam when the war ended, but he also refused to believe that Japan had lost the war and hid out in an dug out underground cave for 28 years.  He had refused to surrender, believing he has dishonored the Emperor.  He was discovered in 1972 while fishing in the Talofofo River by two hunters.

It is 1972 and Kiko Chargalauf, a 15 year old Charmorro boy who must suddenly deal with a lot of things in his life.  His older brother Sammy, who he has always looked up to, is off flying dangerous missions in Vietnam for the US Air Force; his parents have recently bought a tourist souvenir shop and must work long and hard to try and make a success of it; and his grandfather is slowly succumbing to Lytico-Bodig,    a disease occurring only in Guam, it is similar to Alzheimer's disease.  And on top of all these troubles, Kiko has a crush on a girl named Daphne, but is too scared to ask her out.

At the same time, not far from Kiko's home, a WWII Japanese soldier has been hiding out for 28 years, his body bent from living is a cramped underground cave.  Though he hates the idea of giving up, Isamu Seto wants to escape his cave, where he is haunted by the ghosts of his two fallen comrades and tries to comfort himself with childhood memories, though the voice of his father telling him he is weak and can't do anything right constantly intrudes on his thoughts.

When Kiko sees his grandfather attacking a Japanese man, he inadvertently learns that his mother had been raped by a Japanese soldier during WW2.  As Kiko's anger intensifies, Seto begins to make mistakes, leaving indications that he is hiding out in the jungle.  But though the Charmorro's are accustomed to finding "stragglers" there, Kiko becomes more suspicious and more interested than usual - providing a perfect opportunity for avenging his mother's rape.

In No Surrender Soldier, Christine Kohler has drawn from Yokoi's story to create an historical fiction  novel in which she manages to seamlessly blend fact and fiction, exploring the wide-ranging thoughts, feelings and emotions of both Kiko and Seto.  The chapter alternate between Kiko and Seto, with Kiko's told in the first person using internal and external dialogue to move his story along.  Seto's story is told in the third person, mostly using internal thoughts and memories.  But the form highlights their parallel doubts, fears and feeling of unworthiness.  I thought it was an interesting choice, but one that makes it definitely Kiko's story.  After all, it is an coming of age novel, though in an odd way, Seto also comes of age.

I found Kiko to be an engaging narrator and I think you will find him to be a very likable teen struggling with issues not so different from today's teens.  I found myself feeling pity and sadness for Seto for wasting 28 years of his life living in an underground tunnel so small, he couldn't even stand up.  I began to feel claustrophobic while reading Seto's chapters.  It wasn't to the point that I ever wanted to put the book down but I could palpably feel the cramped, narrowness of his entire life.

This is a debut YA novel for Kohler and she has clearly done some intensive research, not just about stragglers, but about life on Guam in 1972.  She portrays the culture and customs of the Charmorro people with sensitivity and thoughtfulness.  There is one rather graphic scene where Kiko and his grandfather slaughter a pig for a saint's day celebration, but raise pigs for food is/was part of the life of Charmorro people.

No Surrender Soldier is an unusual, compelling, well written novel that should resonate with today's young readers despite the historical setting.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was provided by the author

This is book 3 of my 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry

Thursday, February 13, 2014

2014 Black History Month

February is Black History Month and this year's theme is Civil Rights in America.  Yesterday, when I went to pick up the new book I had on hold at the library, The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin, I started thinking about the all of the excellent books I have read depicting the experience of African American men, women and children during World War II.

It has been said that the African American men and women who served and worked on the home front and combat fronts in World War II helped pave the way for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.  Their fight for equality is often referred to as The Double Victory Campaign because they were fighting  racism at home and fascism overseas.  In 1997, the Department of Defense created this video documenting the contributions of African Americans in WW2 even as they faced discrimination and disrespect.  Narrated by James Earl Jones, it includes oral histories from some of the combat veterans still living at that time.  It is 1 hour long, but it is well worth watching.

Here are some of the books I have reviewed that you may find interesting after watching African Americans in World War II: A Legacy of Patriotism and Valor:

The Double Victory Campaign: African Americans and World War II by Michael Cooper
A history of African American men and women who fought for victory for their country and for their own equality at home and in the armed services in WWII.

Double Victory: How African American Women Broke Race and Gender Barriers to Help Win World War II by Cheryl Mullenbach
How the Double Victory Campaign was also waged on the home front and in the Women;s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) by women in WWII.

The story of America's first black paratroopers.

Of the 26 stories, one is the fascinating story about the wartime spying done by Josephine Baker, an African American entertainer living in France.

I include this book because on of the choices readers can make is to become a Tuskegee Airman.

Jump into the Sky by Shelly Pearsall
A nice companion novel to Courage Has No Color, about a boy whose father in a Triple Nickels.

Mare's War by Tanita S. Davis
A novel about a woman who became part of the 6888th Central Postal Battalion and the only African American women who served overseas.

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith
A novel about a young African American women who wants to the WASP (Women's Airforce Service Pilots), but it is only open to white women.  She gets accepted by passing for white, but eventually problems arise.

 Caleb's War by David L. Dudley   
A young African American boy faces discrimination even as he befriend a white German POW is has more freedom that he does.

Wind Flyers by Angela Johnson
A picture book about a boy who dreams of flying and grows up to become a Tuskegee Airman.

Coming on Home Soon by Jacqueline Woodson
In this beautiful picture, a young girl awaits the return of her mother who has gone North to work on the railroad because of the shortage of male workers who have gone to war.

Friday, February 7, 2014

A Family Secret by Eric Heuvel

Eric Heuvel's first book, The Search, told the story of Esther Hecht and her parents during the Holocaust.  Esther was the only one family member to survive and she had moved to the United States after the war ended.  But she always wondered what happened to her best friend Helena Van Dort.  Although Helena wasn't a Jew, Esther never knew if she had survived the war or not.

In A Family Secret, the reader already knows that Helena did survive if the reader has read The Search.  But Helena has never spoken to anyone abut about that happened during the Holocaust in the Netherlands, and especially not about her friend Esther or her father, a collaborator.

Now, though, her grandson Jeroen wants to look in her attic for things to sell at the flea market to celebrate Dutch Queen's Day on April 30th.  Going through all the things that have accumulated in the attic, Jeroen comes across some old items from the 1930s and 1940s - a yellow star with Jood (Jew) on it, old newspapers from the 1936 Berlin Olympics, an old scrapbook of newspaper cutting from before and during the war, and an old photograph of two young girls - his grandmother and a girl named Esther.

Downstairs, Jeroen asks about these items and his grandmother begin to tell him about her experiences during the war.  In a series of flashbacks, she tells him about how, when the people in her building discovered that a Jewish family from Germany was about to move in, there was grumbling by some that the Dutch borders should have been closed to refugees.  But as soon as Helena meets Esther Hecht, the two girls become best friends.

As their friendship grows, Esther tells Helena more and more about how things are in Germany, beginning in 1933 when Hitler became Chancellor and started blaming the Jews for Germany's problems.  The more he blamed the Jews, the more anti-Semitic Germany became.  Laws were passed limiting Jewish activity and depriving Jews of their livelihood, their education, their privileges and their civil rights.  Luckily, Esther's father had a friend in Holland who sponsored their move to Amsterdam.

But when Germany invades Poland in 1939 and war is declared, everything changes in Holland, as well.  The Hechts try to flee again, but are turned back.  Helena's father had been a policeman, but when Germany invades the Netherlands in 1940, he begins working for the Nazis, even joining the Dutch Nazi Party.  Helena's brother Theo is also a strong supporter of the Nazis and joins the Wehrmacht when Hitler tries to invade Russia.  Her other brother, Wim, takes the opposite path and joins the Dutch Resistance.

On the day that Esther's parents are rounded up with other Jews, Esther is at school.  Helena's father is in charge of the roundup and tells Mr. Hecht he will wait for Esther to come home and bring her to her parents on the transport.  But, after an argument with Helena about what he has done, her father storms out of the house to look for Esther.

When he returns, he refuses to talk about what and Helena never knew what Esther's fate, whether she had died in the Holocaust or not.  Helena spent her life ashamed of her father's collaboration and always wondering about Esther.

Jeroen finally finds enough stuff to sell for Dutch Queen's Day on April 30th, and on May 4, he goes to see his grandmother again.  Helena had wanted to attend a Memorial Day Service, but she had sprained her ankle and so Jeroen goes in her place.

While there, a women tells about how she survived the Holocaust and during her story, she mentions her best friend Helena.  Jeroen recognizes parts of what she says and introduces himself to her.

And you know from The Search, it is Esther and she and Helena are reunited.

Just as he did in The Search, Heuvel doesn't hold back in A Family Secret, creating another graphic novel that is sensitive and dynamic but also factual.  There is really no surprise ending in either of the novels and, the reader knows from the start that the two friends meet again and even if you didn't read it, the ending of both novels is really predictiable.  What is interesting and important in these two graphic novels are the two different sides of the girl's experiences under the Nazis and the authentic information that Heuvel provides while telling Esther and Helens's stories.

Graphic novels have become such excellent vehicles for histocial fiction, and have evolved so much since they first gainted in popularity, making them a great way to introduce young readers to the difficult subject like the Holocaust.

Eric Heuvel is a first rate cartoonist but I believe that to date, A Family Secret and The Search are the only works of his translated into English.  His graphics are very clear and well done, and leave no room for ambiguity as to who is who or what time period he is depicting.  And the same translator of The Search, Lorraine T, Miller, has also once again proiduced an excellent translation from the original Dutch that totally supports the illustrations.

A Family Secret and The Search are two graphic novels that shouldn't be missed by anyone interested in the Holocaust.

This book is recommended for readers age 11+
This book was borrowed from the library at Bank Street School

There is a helpful Teacher's Guide PDF available for The Search, A Family Secret and Anne Frank: Her Life in Words and Pictures for use together or separately.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Speaking From Among the Bones (a Flavia de Luce Mystery #5) by Alan Bradley

I have absolutely no real  justification for reviewing this book here at The Children's War except that I read it, I loved, I can't believe I waited this long to read a Flavia de Luce novel, and if I really want to push the envelope, I could say it is a nice post-war mystery.  But I am reviewing it mostly because I am participating in the 2014 Crusin' with the Cozies Reading Challenge and didn't have a true WWII mystery on hand.

Speaking From Among the Bones begins in Spring 1951 and the rural English village of Bishop's Lacey is still trying to recover from the war.  Now, it is about to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the death of St. Tankred, their patron saint and the namesake of the villages CofE church, where he is buried.  And to celebrate, the saint is going to be exhumed from his tomb.  Naturally, Flavia de Luce, 11, amateur sleuth, is very curious to see the body of the saint when the tomb is open.

But before that happens, the church organist goes missing and Flavia's older sister, Feeley (short for Ophelia) is called in to substitute until he returns.  But Feeley has been complaining that the organ has been sounding wonky lately.  When Flavia shows up at the church to investigate the wonky sound in the organ, she arrives just in time for the exhumation.  Naturally, she sticks around.

So, when St. Tankred's tomb won't open easily, it is Flavia who is the only one small enough to crawl in to see why it is stuck.  And what she finds is the organist, Mr. Collicott, dead and wearing an old wartime gas mask.  But who and why would anyone want to kill someone as ordinary as a church organist.

At the same time that Flavia is working on the mystery of Mr. Collicott's murder, things in her own life have become very unstable, and there is a good chance she could lose her beloved first-rate chemistry lab and library left by her Uncle Tar.  The de Luce's live in an enormous old manor called Buckshaw, left to Flavia's mother, Harriet.  Flavia lived in the west wing, while her father, sister Feeley and Daffy live in the east wing.  Harriet has been missing for years now after a skiing accident in the Alps when Flavia was a baby, and the government is bleeding her father financially dry with inheritance taxes, which has caused him to sink into a severe depression" "…His Majesty's Board of Inland Revenue had done to Father what the Empire of Japan had failed to do.  They had caused him to give up hope."

Of course, things get more and more complicated as Flavia goes around on her bicycle named Gladys, trying to piece together the mystery of Mr. Collicut's murder, and trying to ignore all the problems at home.  And along the way, she discovers some information about her missing mother's past.  There are also real some other surprises in store for Flavia, but none like the one at the end of the book.

I enjoyed reading this book so much, so why, oh why did I wait so long to get to know Flavia?  An 11 year old who loves chemistry, poisons being her speciality.  Talk about intelligent, eccentric and precocious, a natural born busy-body, and yet so likable.  Totally appealing to a girl who cut her mystery reading teeth on Nancy Drew and moved on from there.

Speaking From Among the Bones is the 5th Flavia mystery in the series.  Amazingly enough, it really stands alone.  The author, Alan Bradley, has managed to write a book that includes just enough information about the past so that you can go back and read the other four novels without having had them spoiled, yet you have enough background to understand this book.

And although the Flavia mysteries are marketed as adult books, they are the kind of mystery that has a great deal of teen-appeal, and maybe even some precocius pre-teens would enjoy them.

I liked Speaking From Among the Bones so much, that I immediately bought the first 4 novels to catch up (I already have Number 6 on my e-reader, thanks to NetGalley) and I have never ever done that before.  I think that with the exception of the Dorothy Sayer's Peter Wimsey mysteries, the Flavia de Luce mysteries are English eccentricity at its finest.

This book is recommended for readers 14+
This book is and E-ARC received from NetGalley

This is book 1 of my 2014 Crusin' Thru the Cozies Reading Challenge hosted by Socrates' Book Reviews

This is book 2 of my 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry

Monday, February 3, 2014

Susan Marcus Bends the Rules by Jane Cutler

It all happened because of the war.  If it hadn't been for the war, Susan Marcus's dad wouldn't have lost his job when his boss's son was killed in action.  And Susan wouldn't have had to move to St. Louis, Missouri because of her dad's new job, leaving behind her best friend Marv and his sister Rose in the Bronx, probably never to see them again.

And when they got to St. Louis, it didn't seem like their were any kids on her new block until one day there was knock on the door, a girl her age bearing a plate of homemade welcome cookies.  Marlene lives just down the street from Susan, with her mother and little sister Liz and her two grandmothers.  Now friends, Susan and Marlene begin playing together, except when Marlene is off with her other friends.  That's when Susan meets Loretta, the black girl who secretly lives in the basement with her mother in Susan's building.  Secretly, because Jim Crow laws forbide blacks and whites to live in the same building.  And before long, Susan learns the Loretta's mother Irene is pretending to be Luther, the building's janitor.  But as Susan's father explains, it's hard to find a place to live because of the war, so mum's the word about Irene.

Summer in St. Louis is hot and sticky.  One day,  Loretta invites Marlene and Susan into her makeshift home in the basement where it remains cool and comfortable.  The three girls become secret friends and often play games there.  One hot Sunday, Susan, her parents, Marlene and Liz head over to the town swimming pool.  Before they leave, Susan asks if Loretta can come along.  Her dad says no, but he will explain later.  A week later, Susan remembers to ask about that day and learns about Jim Crow.

Jim Crow makes her angry, and she wants to do something but what?  Meantime, Susan also feels the bite of prejudice when one of Marlene's grandmothers makes disparaing remarks about Susan's family being Jewish.  Now, Susan is even more determined to do something.

The three girls concoct a plan that isn't exactly against Jim Crow laws, it just bends them a little by doing something that people just don't do.  The buses in St. Louis are integrated to the point where people can sit anyplace they want.  But by what might be called silent mutual agreement, blacks and whites never sit together.  The plan is to ride side by side: Marlene, Loretta, Susan.  And they plan to integrate one restaurant - the small Chinese restaurant that Susan and her parents liked to eat in after going to the movies.

But when the girls witness just how cruel and dangerous hated can be, have they biten off more than they can chew with their plan?

For the most part, I like Susan Marcus Bends the Rules.  I liked the idea of bending not breaking the law in this case, because breaking could have had some serious consequences and not by law enforcement.  This is a mild, though engaging novel, long on period details.  Just hanging out and talking, roller skating, playing monopoly and jacks are all things girls did back in 1943.  Not having to worry about blackout curtains or air raid sirens because the enemy would never get as far as the middle of the country to bomb it where also nice touches that I have forgotten about.  Men sittting around listening to ball games on the radio, while women playing bridge, kids not being closely watched as they are today also added to the historical realism of the novel.

I thought the characterization of Susan worked, but her family and friends were not terribly well fleshed out.  They felt very two dimentional to me and are what I think of as 'functional characters' - existing for the purpose of moving Susan's story along, but not really developed themselves.  I should mention, despite this, the characterization of Loretta was well handled and avoided the usual stereotypical depiction of African American.  She and her mother may have been poor, but they didn't speak in a dialect that was incomprehensible and seems to be the way people believe all African Americans spoke in the past.

I thought it was interesting that the strongest expressions of hate and bigotry in the novel is against the Chinese people who owned the restaurant and others who owned the Chinese Laundry and who were mistaken for being Japanese.  I would have expected to see it against the Loretta because she is African American or even Susan because she is a Jewish girl from New York (with an accent she is trying to lose), particulary since it is Jim Crow laws they are bending.  Too confusing for young readers?  Maybe, but it would work nicely in school as a supplemental text about WW2.  It could help begin lots of conversations about life on the home front.

In the long run, Susan Marcus Bends the Rules has enough merit to recommend it and will probably be very well liked by the age group it is meant for.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book is an E-ARC recieved from NetGalley

This book is supposed to be available in March 2014 but it appears to be available now.