Ruby Holler: Sharon Creech
The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place: E. L. Konigsburg

The Devil's Arithmetic: Jane Yolen

My next 48 Hour Book Challenge entry is The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen. This book won the National Jewish Book Award, among others. The Devil's Arithmetic is the story of young Hannah, a modern-day Jewish girl from New Rochelle, who opens a door, and finds herself living during the Holocaust.

The modern-day Hannah is weary of her family's Passover Seder gatherings, especially her grandfather's rantings and ravings about the past. She knows that her Grandfather Will and his sister Eva survived a concentration camp, the only members of their family to do so. But it's hard to relate to that, in modern-day America.

When Hannah goes to the door to let in Elijah (part of the ritual), she finds herself in another world, living the life of her long-ago namesake, Chaya Abramowicz. It's 1942, and the recently orphaned Chaya is with her extended family in a Polish Jewish shtetl, celebrating her uncle's wedding day. Before the wedding can take place, however, Nazi's appear, and begin the dreaded process of "relocating" the villagers. The remainder of the book follows Hannah/Chaya's experience traveling to and living in a concentration camp. Gradually her memories of life as Hannah desert her, and she becomes immersed in her terrible surroundings.

The Devil's Arithmetic is a powerful story, utterly gripping, though not for the faint of heart. Jane Yolen doesn't shrink from the realities of the Holocaust, though she doesn't dwell on gory descriptions. The book introduces children to the story of the Holocaust in a much more powerful way than simply learning the facts ever could. Reading about the feelings of a protagonist their own age as she experiences the indignities and terrors, large and small, makes the Holocaust much more real. Though no easier to understand.

You can read Jane Yolen's thoughts about the book on her website. She says, "Writers and storytellers are the memory of a civilization, and we who are alive now really must not forget what happened in that awful time or else we may be doomed to repeat it."

Book: The Devil's Arithmetic
Author: Jane Yolen
Publisher: Puffin Books
Original Publication Date: 1988
Pages: 170
Age Range: 12 and up
Time Spent: 1 hour, 45 minutes

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.