Category Archives: Memoir

Review: The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition by Anne Frank

Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition
Anne Frank
EFE Books
Published May 15, 2022

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About The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition

The Diary of a Young Girl, often known as the Anne Frank Diary, is a collection of entries from Anne Frank’s Dutch-language diary, which she recorded while a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family evacuated their house in Amsterdam and went into hiding in 1942 when Nazis occupied Holland. Anne Frank died of typhus at the Bergen-Belsen detention camp in 1945 after the family was captured in 1944.

Anne Frank kept a diary throughout this time, recording vivid recollections of her events. Her tale is a fascinating commentary on human tenacity and weakness, as well as a riveting self-portrait of a sensitive and energetic young lady whose promise was sadly cut short. Miep Gies was able to retrieve the diary.

My Review

I’d been thinking that I’d read Anne Frank’s diary in school, but I don’t think that’s actually true. I know we read the play based on her diary and then went to see it performed by a local community theatre. I don’t think we read her actual diary, though.

This year, one of the books banned near me is the graphic novel adaptation of Anne Frank’s diary. I would like to read that book, but wanted to read the original first, since the objection to the graphic novel seems to be that something included in it isn’t accurate to the original diary.

Some Facts I Learned from the Foreward of Diary of a Young Girl

Anne initially kept her diary for herself, but when a member of the exiled Dutch government expressed interest in personal witness accounts written during the war, Anne began editing her diary entries with the intent on publishing her writing someday.

Anne’s father put together the entries that formed the first publication of the book. He opted not to include journal entries referencing Anne’s sexuality (something not discussed at the time in young adult literature) and negative thoughts about her mom and other people she lived with in the Secret Annex.

When Anne’s father, Otto Frank, died, the diary became the property of the Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation, which investigated and proved the diary authentic. After that, the diary was published in its entirety.

After that, the sole heir of Otto Frank, who owned the copyrights of Anne’s diary, sought to publish a new, expanded edition of the work. This contains about thirty percent new material compared to the original publication.

She Was Thirteen

As I read the entries to Anne Frank’s diary, it struck me again and again how young she was when she wrote them. Though she intended to publish something based on her diary, we don’t have a way of knowing what she would or would not have wanted publicly known. How would she have felt about the things she wrote about her mom and sister– and even her dad– if she’d been the family member to survive the war? We will never have the chance to know.

She wrote so many insightful things, too. She wrote about the anxiety and depression of being in hiding. Her family would hear rumors of arrests, torture, and death in concentration camps. They endured nighttime bombings, knowing if any of them were injured, they couldn’t safely get medical help. And if the building in which they were hiding was destroyed, they’d have nowhere to go.

She wrote about falling in love, about growing up, and about the changes in her relationships with her family members as she grew.

Anne Frank Wanted to Be a Writer

Every life lost in the war and Holocaust is tragic, but there is something especially tragic about the loss of this young writer. Even as a teenager, she had such a gift with words. What would our world have been like if she’d been able to pursue that gift and share it with us for decades more? What would she have written about her life in hiding and about the aftermath of the war if she’d lived to tell us?

I feel like her story would be important anyway as a record of her experiences, but I’m sure what’s made it so enduring is Anne’s ability to articulate her thoughts and experiences in a way that transcends her age. Some passages in the diary are so powerfully written. And yet, in others, she reminds us that she’s an early teenager with hopes and dreams and frustrations about her family, her studies, and her relationships.

Conclusion

I’m so glad I read this book. I think Anne Frank’s story more than deserves its place of honor. This book is so much more than a teenage girl’s diary. It’s an account of a young girl forced into hiding with her family, coming of age during World War II. It’s the story of a bright young mind who finds humor in the everyday goings on around her. This is the story of a girl whose life was brutally ended far too soon.

I highly recommend reading THE DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL by Anne Frank if you haven’t already. I also think it would be worth rereading as an adult because I know that impacted my perspective.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 10 up.

Representation
Anne, her family, and the others living in the Secret Annex are Jewish.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Anne uses an offensive racial term for biracial people. (She doesn’t appear to be using the term to be purposely offensive, but in the context of the language commonly used at the time.)

Romance/Sexual Content
Anne reports she once asked a female friend if she could see her breasts and wanted to kiss her. She says she feels “ecstasy” when seeing female bodies. Anne laments that her parents never spoke openly with her about sex. She mentions speaking openly with Peter about the bodies of men and women. Kissing between boy and girl.

Spiritual Content
Anne’s family celebrates Hanukkah and St. Nicholas Day together.

Violent Content
Anne hears rumors of citizens being executed. She hears rumors about people taken to concentration camps. Her family hears they get very little food or water, that thousands must share a single bathroom, that their heads are shaved, and that many are murdered. Anne worries about friends from school and others her family knew. She sometimes has dreams of them asking her for help.

Anne very briefly mentions that someone in her family once tried to end their life.

Drug Content
An adult drinks wine and then does not sleep well. Another adult smokes, and others tell him he should quit. Other scenes reference people drinking alcohol. Anne takes Valerian drops to combat feelings of anxiety and panic during her time in hiding.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of THE DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL: THE DEFINITIVE EDITION in exchange for my honest review.

Review: The Girl Who Sang by Estelle Nadel, Sammy Savos, and Bethany Strout

The Girl Who Sang: A Holocaust Memoir of Hope and Survival
Estelle Nadel
Illustrated by Sammy Savos
Edited by Bethany Strout
Roaring Brook Press
Published January 23, 2024

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About The Girl Who Sang: A Holocaust Memoir of Hope and Survival

A heartrending graphic memoir about a young Jewish girl’s fight for survival in Nazi-occupied Poland, THE GIRL WHO SANG illustrates the power of a brother’s love, the kindness of strangers, and finding hope when facing the unimaginable.

Born to a Jewish family in a small Polish village, Estelle Nadel―then known as Enia Feld―was just seven years old when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. Once a vibrant child with a song for every occasion, Estelle would eventually lose her voice as, over the next five years, she would survive the deaths of their mother, father, their eldest brother and sister, and countless others.

A child at the mercy of her neighbors during a terrifying time in history, THE GIRL WHO SANG is an enthralling first-hand account of Estelle’s fight for survival during World War II. She would weather loss, betrayal, near-execution, and spend two years away from the warmth of the sun―all before the age of eleven. And once the war was over, Estelle would walk barefoot across European borders and find remnants of home in an Austrian displaced persons camp before finally crossing the Atlantic to arrive in New York City―a young woman carrying the unseen scars of war.

Beautifully rendered in bright hues with expressive, emotional characters, debut illustrator Sammy Savos masterfully brings Estelle’s story of survival during the Holocaust to a whole new generation of readers. THE GIRL WHO SANG is perfect for fans of MARCH, MAUS, and ANNE FRANK’S DIARY.

My Review

What a powerful first-hand account of survival during the Nazi occupation of Poland. In the opening pages, we meet Enia’s family and see the quiet life they live in their small town. Then, as the Nazis invade, things change. Her family must hide. Enia feels afraid. She loses so many people, but always, when she needs help, someone steps up to help her.

Some of the scenes in the book are pretty chilling. There’s one brief series of panels that shows, from a distance, soldiers lining people up against a building. In the next image, red smudges the wall of the building, and the people are shown collapsed on the ground. The viewer easily understands they’ve been shot to death.

Thinking about this tiny girl never speaking above a whisper or standing up while she was in hiding can’t help but break your heart. Thinking about her brother, who was only a few years older than she was, risking his life several times a week to look for food is also heartbreaking. I can’t begin to think about how I would process that anxiety– both from being the person going out and the person left behind. The resilience and devotedness of these siblings leaves me in awe.

I also love the decision to tell this story as a graphic memoir. Not only do the illustrations help to anchor the story in its setting, but they carefully lay out the story without needing to graphically describe some of the horrors Estelle and her family endured.

I think readers who were moved by THE LIBRARIAN OF AUSCHWITZ: THE GRAPHIC ADAPTATION or the graphic adaptations mentioned in the book description above will find this story equally moving and important.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 10 up.

Representation
Estelle (called Enia in the early pages of the book) and her family are Jewish and Polish.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
None.

Romance/Sexual Content
Enia believes her older sister and her sister’s sweetheart will get married.

She describes how her family used public showers in town once per week as part of getting ready for the Sabbath. One image shows a vague representation from a distance of Enia and her mother readying for a shower.

Spiritual Content
Enia celebrates Shabbat and Passover with her family. She also learns to prepare food according to Jewish rules so that the food is kosher.

Violent Content
Soldiers ransack Enia’s house, looking for valuables.

There’s one brief series of panels that shows, from a distance, soldiers lining people up against a building. In the next image, red smudges the wall of the building, and the people are shown collapsed on the ground. The viewer easily understands they’ve been shot to death. Enia is told that her mother was beaten by soldiers and likely shot to death the next morning. She’s told that other family members were shot as well and later learns they were killed in a gas chamber.

At one point, Enia witnesses soldiers beating her brother and begs for them to stop. The panels show simplified images that hint at the violence without being gratuitous.

Drug Content
None.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of THE GIRL WHO SANG in exchange for my honest review.

Review: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
Elizabeth Gilbert
Riverhead Books
September 22, 2015

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About Big Magic

Readers of all ages and walks of life have drawn inspiration and empowerment from Elizabeth Gilbert’s books for years. Gilbert offers insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration. She asks us to embrace our curiosity and let go of needless suffering. She shows us how to tackle what we most love, and how to face down what we most fear. And she discusses the attitudes, approaches, and habits we need in order to live our most creative lives.

Balancing between soulful spirituality and cheerful pragmatism, Gilbert encourages us to uncover the “strange jewels” that are hidden within each of us. Whether we are looking to write a book, make art, find new ways to address challenges in our work, embark on a dream long deferred, or simply infuse our everyday lives with more mindfulness and passion, BIG MAGIC cracks open a world of wonder and joy.

My Review

I saw this book on a list of great nonfiction for women. Years ago, I read EAT, PRAY, LOVE by Elizabeth Gilbert, and I love her TedTalk about creative genius, but this is the first book of hers that I’ve read since those things.

I feel like the best, shortest description of this book is that it’s basically her TedTalk on creative genius, but deeper, wider, and filled with even more wild and amazing stories. Every time I thought, well, “I can’t possibly love this book any more than I currently do,” she would open a new topic that resonated with me or begin talking about an author I deeply admire. (She talks about Harper Lee, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and Brené Brown in the book, just to name a few.)

This is the kind of book that I need to read again and again and let its lessons kind of soak in my brain. I want to be able to highlight sections or use some of the quotes from the book as journal prompts.

The book explores a lot of the heartaches and roadblocks of pursuing a creative life. As a writer, a LOT of what she said resonated with me in terms of my own processes and experiences. I feel like there are some great tools here that can help me move forward with my writing with more confidence and purpose. I’m really excited about that.

BIG MAGIC is a great book for creative people of all types, not just writers and not just people who are trying to pay the bills with their art. Pretty much, my advice is watch the TedTalk. If it speaks to you, and you’re interested in going deeper about those topics and your creativity, definitely check out BIG MAGIC.

Content Notes

Brief mentions of suicide or alcoholism.

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Representation
Elizabeth Gilbert is a white woman. She tells the stories of a lot of other writers and artists, but I’m not sure how diverse that crowd is. At least a few are BIPOC.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used somewhat infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
References to moving overseas with her boyfriend.

Spiritual Content
So the basic premise is about approaching creativity or inspiration as if it arrives from an external source. Gilbert isn’t specific about what that source is, so readers have lots of room to fill in the blanks with their own spirituality. She talks about her beliefs about a soul versus her ego and how experiences affect each.

Violent Content
Gilbert mentions briefly that a number of artists have died by suicide or addiction to alcohol.

Drug Content
Mentions of alcoholism.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog.

Review: Best Friends by Shannon Hale

Best Friends (Friends #2)
Shannon Hale
Illustrated by LeUyen Pham
MacMillan Audio
Published August 8, 2023

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About Best Friends

The creators of Real Friends Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham are back with a true story about popularity, first crushes, and finding your own path in the graphic novel, Best Friends.

Follow your heart. Find your people.

Sixth grade is supposed to be perfect. Shannon’s got a sure spot in the in-crowd called The Group, and her best friend is their leader, Jen, the most popular girl in school.

But the rules are always changing, and Shannon has to scramble to keep up. She never knows which TV shows are cool, what songs to listen to, and who she’s allowed to talk to. Who makes these rules, anyway? And does Shannon have to follow them?

My Review

This book was originally published in 2019 as a graphic memoir, and now it’s available as an audiobook. I have never read a graphic novel or memoir converted to an audiobook, so I was curious how the story would translate. I hadn’t read the original, so I went into my reading without any reference for the story.

The recording features a full cast and some setting effects, such as footsteps and other sounds to help anchor the reader in the scene. I thought that worked really well to preserve the feeling of reading spare text, the way you would in a graphic memoir.

Shannon Hale narrates the book herself, which is really cool. I feel like the voices of the characters fit pretty well for the most part. At first, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to keep all the characters of Shannon’s friends straight, but the narration or dialogue helped label who was talking, so it was pretty easy.

The story follows a sixth-grade Shannon as she tries to figure out the changing rules of friendship and relationships between boys and girls in her grade. I absolutely identified with some of the challenges she related and the heartbreak of friends leaving her out or excluding her.

She also includes passages from a story she was writing at twelve, which I loved! It shows how writing helps her process what’s happening and becomes a safe space for her to be proud of who she is.

A short interview with the author and her twelve-year-old twin girls follows the book. A lot of what they talked about was how things changed between the 1980s, when their mom was in middle school, and now. They brought up a lot of interesting points, and listening to them talk to one another was fun.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 8 to 12.

Representation
Shannon, the main character, is white. She has undiagnosed anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (which the author mentions in the interview following the book).

Profanity/Crude Language Content
None.

Romance/Sexual Content
A girl kisses a boy on the cheek. A boy and girl kiss for a long time in front of another girl (to try to hurt her).

Spiritual Content
Shannon prays for her family and home to be safe. She thinks about how Jesus would want her to stand up for kids who were excluded or bullied.

Violent Content
A boy accidentally drops another boy, leaving him with a concussion. Girls gossip about one another and say hurtful things.

Drug Content
None.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything but help support this blog. I received a free copy of BEST FRIENDS in exchange for my honest review.

Review: Don’t Look Back by Achut Deng and Keely Hutton

Don’t Look Back: A Memoir of War, Survival, and My Journey to America
Achut Deng and Keely Hutton
Farrar, Straus, & Giroux

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About Don’t Look Back

In this propulsive memoir from Achut Deng and Keely Hutton, inspired by a harrowing New York Times article, Don’t Look Back tells a powerful story showing both the ugliness and the beauty of humanity, and the power of not giving up.

I want life.

After a deadly attack in South Sudan left six-year-old Achut Deng without a family, she lived in refugee camps for ten years, until a refugee relocation program gave her the opportunity to move to the United States. When asked why she should be given a chance to leave the camp, Achut simply told the I want life.

But the chance at starting a new life in a new country came with a different set of challenges. Some of them equally deadly. Taught by the strong women in her life not to look back, Achut kept moving forward, overcoming one obstacle after another, facing each day with hope and faith in her future. Yet, just as Achut began to think of the US as her home, a tie to her old life resurfaced, and for the first time, she had no choice but to remember her past.

My Review

As I read this book, I found myself thinking about the timeline of the author’s life. What was I likely doing while she fled for her life from soldiers intent on killing everyone in her village? How did I spend my time during the years she lived in the refugee camp in Kenya? It really made me think about how sheltered and safe my life has been and how far that is from the experience so many other people have in their childhoods and lives.

I think the authors did an excellent job describing a child’s view of the horrors of war and of the endless pressure of hunger and waiting during her life in the refugee camp. In the scene in which Achut hides in her closet, contemplating ending her life, the intensity of her hopelessness and feelings of being trapped were absolutely gripping.

All in all, it’s an excellent memoir that delivers a personal account of a child’s life during the war in Sudan, life in a refugee camp, and eventual immigration to the United States. Readers who enjoyed OVER A THOUSAND HILLS I WALK WITH YOU by Hanna Jensen or FINDING REFUGE by Victorya Krouse will want to read this powerful, true account.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Representation
Achut and her family are Sudanese. She and some of her family members live as refugees in a camp in Kenya for years before immigrating to the United States.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
None.

Romance/Sexual Content
References to women being assaulted by soldiers in villages and in the refugee camp. Later, an older boy sexually abuses Achut. Details are limited and focus on the horror and helplessness Achut feels.

Spiritual Content
Achut’s family have all been given Christian names, which they’re told to use. She never feels like her name, Rachel, suits her and prefers her family name, Achut, instead.

Violent Content
Soldiers fire guns at fleeing civilians, killing many. Soldiers fire rifles into people’s homes, killing some hiding there. In the refugee camp, Achut faces physical abuse by her guardians as well as starvation from rations being withheld. Diseases spread through the camp, killing many. Parasites infect Achut and others and must be pulled from wounds in their legs and feet. A poisonous snake bites a girl, causing her leg to swell painfully. Men who have been caught assaulting women are publicly punished by having their heads shaved roughly, so that they have deep cuts on their scalps. Officials rub salt into the wounds.

Drug Content
Achut’s cousin begins getting drunk to avoid his grief and anger. She worries this behavior will ultimately kill him.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of DON’T LOOK BACK in exchange for my honest review.

Review: Monstrous: A Transracial Adoption Story by Sarah Myer

Monstrous: A Transracial Adoption Story
Sarah Myer
First Second
Published June 27, 2023

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About Monstrous

A poignant young adult graphic memoir about a Korean-American girl who uses fandom and art-making to overcome racist bullying. Perfect for fans of American Born Chinese and Almost American Girl!

Sarah has always struggled to fit in. Born in South Korea and adopted at birth by a white couple, she grows up in a rural community with few Asian neighbors. People whisper in the supermarket. Classmates bully her. She has trouble containing her anger in these moments―but through it all, she has her art. She’s always been a compulsive drawer, and when she discovers anime, her hobby becomes an obsession.

Though drawing and cosplay offer her an escape, she still struggles to connect with others. And in high school, the bullies are louder and meaner. Sarah’s bubbling rage is threatening to burst.

My Review

I loved this memoir, though parts of it were heartbreaking to read. No one should be treated the way the author was. The descriptions of early childhood and particularly the difficulty of telling the difference between anxiety and having a wild imagination made so much sense to me. I think back in the 80s and 90s in particular, we didn’t talk about fear and worry in terms of mental health. It was viewed more as personal quirkiness maybe? I definitely grew up thinking that a lot of my own struggles with anxiety were simply my overactive imagination. So reading about Sarah’s experience with that was both sad and very validating.

I think what’s truly brilliant about this book is the way that Myer uses concrete visual storytelling to tell the story of a really abstract idea. Because ultimately what the book is about is the journey Sarah takes to learn self-love and peace. I love that art is such a huge part of that story– the fact that the artist is telling their own story through art adds a whole extra layer to the message, too. Because not only has Sarah learned self-love through art, they’ve also found a way to use art to share their story and welcome others into an exploration of self-love, too.

I also love the relationships in the book and the way that each character in Sarah’s family isn’t perfect, but it’s clear that there’s love between them.

This is a great book for anyone struggling with anger, anxiety, or bullying.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Representation
Sarah and her sister are Korean American, adopted by white parents.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used infrequently. Racial and homophobic slurs used infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Infrequent use of homophobic slurs. Sarah wonders about a couple of past friendships and whether those were also crushes.

Spiritual Content
None.

Violent Content
Some scenes include racist comments and stereotypes. Others bully Sarah. She sometimes reacts by name-calling or hitting them.

Drug Content
References to teens drinking beer.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of MONSTROUS in exchange for my honest review.