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The Other Half of Life: A Novel Based on the True Story of the MS St. Louis Hardcover – May 12, 2009

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 730L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (May 12, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375852190
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375852190
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.8 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,386,689 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 6-8–Based on the story of the MS St. Louis in 1939, the journey of the fictional Nazi luxury liner MS St. Francis from Germany to Cuba and the United States creates the dramatic underpinning for this story. Focusing on 15-year-old Thomas Werkmann and 14-year-old Priska Affeldt, Whitney chronicles what happened to more than 900 Jews seeking refuge from growing anti-Semitism in Germany. Thomas is traveling alone. His father, who is Jewish, is in Dachau, and his mother, a Christian, could raise the money for only one passage. A strong friendship develops between the wary boy and optimistic Priska, who is traveling with her family. Whitney integrates, sometimes in an overly journalistic tone, information about oppression in Germany, but readers' attention is held by the young passengers' playful pranks, the developing romance between the two main characters, and tension between the passengers and the Nazi crew. Chess becomes significant to the story, possibly leaving some readers at a loss. The dramatic tone is sometimes too subdued, especially when the passengers are forced to make the return trans-Atlantic journey after being turned away from Cuba and the United States. In spite of these shortcomings, this story will hold readers' interest and heighten awareness of history that could become forgotten. The author imparts the fates of the passengers in the last two chapters, one set 10 years after the ship returns to Europe and the other 70 years after. A chronology of German anti-Semitic legislation is appended.–Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Based on the 1939 voyage of the luxury liner MS St. Louis, which took 947 Jewish refugees away from Nazi Germany and headed to Cuba, this gripping novel tells the story from one fictionalized passenger’s viewpoint. Thomas, 15, feels haunted and guilty that he has left his parents behind. His Jewish father is in Dachau, and his Christian mother could afford to pay for only one ticket on the boat. As Thomas gets to know the passengers and crew over the 16-day voyage, he discovers Nazis and anti-Nazis, spies and counterspies. He plays chess to pass the time, and he falls in love with a gorgeous teenager, although her bubbly optimism does make him mad. Even chess fans may find the game descriptions too detailed, especially the metaphors about pawns and moves that echo life on board. But the dialogue, especially the flirting, is fast and tender, and Whitney builds the story’s excitement: Will Cuba let them in? Will the U.S.? The answers are no, and readers will welcome the appended factual material, including a bibliography, to learn more of the devastating history. Grades 7-10. --Hazel Rochman

More About the Author

Kim Ablon Whitney's novels have earned special distinction from the American Library Association, Bank Street College of Education, and Booklist Magazine. A graduate of Tufts University, Kim has an M.F.A. in creative writing from Emerson College. She lives in Newton, MA with her husband, three children, and dog. In addition to writing fiction, she is a United States Equestrian Federation 'R' judge in hunters, equitation, and jumpers and has judged at some of the country's top horse shows.

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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See all 9 customer reviews
The characters were also great.
Its May 1939 and the SS St. Francis is setting sail for Cuba and eventually the U.S. filled with Jewish refugees desperate for a new life in a new land.
Enchanting Reviews
The Other Half of Life is a wonderful book based upon the MS St. Louis; also know as the voyage of the damned.
Ken Kugler

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By TeensReadToo on October 2, 2009
Format: Hardcover
It's 1939, and things have steadily grown worse for the Jews of Germany.

Fifteen-year-old Thomas Werkmann has witnessed firsthand just how cruel the Nazis can be, and his mother has scraped together the money to send him to Cuba on the tourist boat, the MS Francis, along with over 900 other Jews hoping to escape persecution. Upon their leaving in Hamburg, Thomas is unwillingly befriended by the two daughters of a German literature professor.

Although jealous of the Affeldts and the fact that their family has managed to escape the country together, unlike his own, Thomas finds himself drawn to the 14-year-old Priska, regardless of her seemingly foolish optimism and overly friendly nature.

During their two-week voyage across the Atlantic, Thomas - and eventually Priska - grow suspicious about several things that seem to be happening on their ship.

Why is the crew treating the Jews with respect when Jews aren't considered citizens anymore? Why is the ship steward, Manfred, so friendly with them - Priska in particular - when he's a member of the Nazi party? Why was the Nazi general, Herr Holz, assigned to this ship when he carries a cane to get around, and why does his injury seem so fake to Thomas?

Before the ship enters Cuban waters, rumors begin to circulate, and Thomas and Priska do a little investigating of their own. Is it possible that there might be even bigger problems that may delay their entry into Cuba...and freedom? Although Thomas excels in chess, this may be one game where, as a pawn, he may never be able to win.

This story, based on the true account of the MS St. Louis, surprised me, as I had not heard about this incident prior to reading THE OTHER HALF OF LIFE. Poignant and heartfelt, the cast of characters on this ship will stick with the reader long after they've closed the cover.

Reviewed by: Allison Fraclose
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Enchanting Reviews on June 11, 2009
Format: Kindle Edition
Historical YA
ISBN# 978-0-375-85219-0
234 Pages
Hardcover--Available May 12, 2009

Rating: 4.5 Enchantments

THE OTHER HALF OF LIFE is based on the true story of a World War II voyage. Its May 1939 and the SS St. Francis is setting sail for Cuba and eventually the U.S. filled with Jewish refugees desperate for a new life in a new land. However, none of them could be prepared for the events that are about to take place that will change everyone's lives forever.

Fifteen year old Thomas is traveling alone. His Jewish father has been imprisoned and his Christian mother has scraped together enough money for his passage. Alone and frightened, he finds himself befriended by a family on an upper deck and slowly a relationship begins to form between Thomas and fourteen year old Priska. Its obvious as you read the story that the author did a great job of researching the events on the SS St.

Francis as its very detailed oriented and the reader can fully picture what life must have been like for those on board. Thomas is a very sympathetic character, as is the family he becomes close to onboard. One of my favorite scenes takes place fairly early in the book when Thomas is invited to dine up in first class with Professor Affeldt and his family. All ready ill at ease, Thomas poses as a `cousin' in order to join the family and is forced to deal with overhearing the waiter's remarks about the passengers, witness the attention paid to the pretty Priska by the same waiter and share his story with the family that will soon become his friends. A very engrossing read, readers looking for a great historical read based on a real life event should definitely pick up THE OTHER HALF OF LIFE.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By M. Tanenbaum VINE VOICE on July 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Kim Ablon Whitney has written a riveting fictional account of the doomed voyage of the M.S. St. Louis, a luxury ocean liner which sailed from Germany to Cuba in 1939 with 937 passengers, nearly all German Jews desperate to escape Nazi Germany. Refused safe haven by Cuba and the U.S., the St. Louis was forced to return to Europe; this journey has become symbolic of the indifference of the United States and the rest of the world to the plight of European Jewry on the eve of World War II. Whitney tells the story of 15-year old Thomas, a fictional character who is representative of the young people who travelled alone on the ship. His Christian mother is able to afford passage only for one, and with his Jewish father already arrested and in a concentration camp in Germany, she takes the opportunity to send him off to safety in Cuba. Once on board, Thomas is befriended by the beautiful teenage Priska and her family, who are sailing in first class. Priska and Thomas are attracted to each other, and soon there is romantic tension to our story. However, the irony of sailing on a luxury ocean liner, with caviar, swimming, and dancing, is not lost on Thomas or the largely Nazi crew, who are ordered by the Captain to treat the Jewish passengers with the same respect as they would treat the passengers on any other luxury ocean crossing. From the outset, Thomas has a feeling that, despite their landing permits for Cuba, arriving safely is not guaranteed. When he overhears the crew whispering about Cuban quotas possibly already being full, he resolves to keep his ears and eyes open.

When the ship drops anchor outside the Havana harbor, Thomas and the other passengers realize there is a problem.
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