From School Library Journal
Grade 5–8—After a somewhat slow beginning, this story of the plight of Jews in France from 1940 to 1942 develops into a dramatic tale of courage and determination. Gustave Becker, 11, lives in Paris, enjoying his time with his friend Marcel and his cousin Jean Paul. Then his parents suddenly announce that the family will be moving to Saint-Georges, which they believe to be safer, until they can get visas to go to America. A more even pace follows as Gustave deals with being in a new place and hiding the fact that he is Jewish. He is taunted by Phillipe, a bully who has a visceral hatred of Jews. Gustave develops a friendship with Nicole, a Catholic girl who turns out to be the daughter of Resistance fighters. The story becomes exciting when Gustave takes over her Resistance task when she is sick. The black radishes of the title refer to bribes his father tries to make with German border guards between the occupied and unoccupied zones. Meyer shines light on the bravery of Resistance fighters, and her story gradually crescendos into a gripping read comparable to Marilyn Sachs's classic A Pocket Full of Seeds
(Doubleday, 1972), Carol Matas's Greater Than Angels
(S & S, 1998), and Norma Fox Mazer's Good Night, Maman
(Harcourt, 1999).—Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ
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The story begins in Paris in 1940, when discrimination against Jews in France has become more blatant and more dangerous for Gustave and his parents. Hiding their religious identity, they move to a small village, where they wait for their immigration visas. Soon the border of German-occupied France is established near their home. Like his father, Gustave begins to take uncommon risks, crossing over to find food and helping those who want to escape. Partly based on Meyer’s father’s experiences, the story derives its credibility from the vivid details of daily life and the depiction of changes slowly taking place within Gustave, who balances the occasional cruelty he endures with the friendship and trust he sometimes finds. The novel’s tension builds slowly, reaching its crescendo when Gustave masters his fears in the face of mortal danger. This fine first novel could be read in conjunction with The Good Liar (1999), which takes place in occupied France during WWII. Grades 4-7. --Carolyn Phelan