From Publishers Weekly
Despite the disturbing-sounding setting?a residence for girls in Germany shortly after the end of WWII?this German novel is full of warmth and hope. Halinka, 12, prefers not to think about her abusive mother, and she would rather endure the other girls' taunts about her supposed Gypsy blood than tell them she is Jewish. Pressler doesn't whitewash Halinka's troubled past, but she refuses to emphasize it. She concentrates on the passage of a single week, showing the routine of the home and the interaction of the girls, all of them from damaged families. Halinka determines to win a contest to raise the most funds for a local charity (her ruses demonstrate a beyond-her-years resourcefulness); she trades punches with the class bully; she sneaks off to her private sanctuary, the luggage storeroom, in the middle of the night; she fights off her defenses to befriend a younger girl. What is remarkable is Halinka's complexity: she doesn't trust people but essentially likes them; she breaks rules and even steals yet she is basically good; she has seen too much and yet her voice is childlike. The optimistic note at the conclusion rises sturdily from Pressler's careful foundation, giving readers not a feel-good ending but something solid to feel good about. Ages 9-12.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From School Library Journal
Grade 5-8-Halinka is a 12-year-old Polish girl who lives in a home for girls in post-World War II Germany. Almost every night, she sneaks out of her shared room to go to her secret hiding place in a storage room. There she keeps a notebook of aphorisms such as "When the thoughts are dark, there can be no light in the heart." Through vague references, readers learn that she was abused by her mother and that her Aunt Lou was denied custody because she worked the night shift. So Halinka is in her second foster home until her aunt can get married and make a home for her. When Halinka wins a fund-raising contest, her prize is a day trip to a castle and park and dinner in a restaurant. The outing is a life-changing experience and brings out the author's best writing. After Halinka becomes enchanted with a garden statue, she returns to the home a more peaceful person, aware of the beauty that exists in the world. She also shows some growth in the novel through her friendship with another youngster in the home. Unfortunately, the first-person narration moves slowly and events can only be seen from Halinka's perspective. It is dubious that she is percipient enough to analyze the other characters in the way that she does, and sometimes it seems as though the author is talking. Also, neither a sense of place nor time is clearly established, and the girl's past is never made clear, making it difficult to relate to her. While the story has merit, it is overwhelmed by its stylistic problems.Cheri Estes, Detroit Country Day School Middle School, Beverly Hills, MI
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.