Friday, October 14, 2011

Historical Fiction: Annexed

I took a really great class at Hollins three years ago that was all about Tomboys in children's lit. It was pretty mind blowing and I walked away from it with many new ideas that I think have shaped me as a reader and writer. So we read a lot of prairie fiction - Caddie Woodlawn, What Katy Did and Little House on the Prairie and I made this statement one day at the end of class, "I do not like historical fiction." By the last session, I revised that statement: "I do not like prairie fiction." I stand by that claim. I really, really, really do not like prairie fiction (although if anyone has read any that I should try, I'm open to changing my mind!) It turns out that I LOVE historical fiction, which brings me to the reason I'm writing....

Annexed by Sharon Dogar. I bought it for myself for Christmas (woo!) and I stayed up until 2:15 Monday night (Tuesday morning?) to finish reading it. It's the story of Peter van Pels, a young man who lived in hiding with the Franks for two years in Amsterdam. I have never read The Diary of Anne Frank, perhaps this isn't something I should admit, but I certainly want to read it now that I've read Annexed. Dogar imagines what life must have been like for Peter - " to become the target of her love, and to be so cruelly torn apart from her" (iv). It is like a diary itself, but Peter's present day thoughts (present day = his extraordinary time in the sick bay in Auschwitz [extraordinary b/c it is recorded that he survived there for over three weeks, a nearly impossible feat]) weave their way into the events in the "Annex" with the Franks.

The novel is incredibly moving. The front cover reads, "The powerful story of the boy who loved Anne Frank" but he is so much more than that. He really comes to life in Dogar's novel - I understand that he was an actual person, but I think she paints a vivid picture of what he could have actually been like. He's so...real. One of his largest concerns is that he'll never sleep with a girl - a matter of significant importance for an 18 year old - but he has so many other facets beyond that one and I think that's perhaps why he seems so real. Sometimes the world around you can be crumbling, but all you can think about it is what will happen for you specifically, and I think his agitation over whether or not he'll ever have sex is something that makes him really come to life. Because he's also terrified over whether or not his mother and father will survive, if there will be food on the table, if the people breaking into the warehouse will find them...he's a fascinating character and I really think Sharon Dogar articulates his story well.

I'm kind of blown away by historical fiction. There's so much research devoted to it and I think that's what impresses me the most. Dogar undoubtedly poured over Anne Frank's diary and countless other publications about the Holocaust to prepare for this novel. I think what makes historical fiction so profound is that it is influenced by so many details. It is such a challenge! (Susan Campbell Bartoletti is my current favorite and her work is really, really inspirational). I don't teach, but if I did, I would definitely consider using Annexed in the classroom. I'm really excited about this book and I hope other readers are as well.

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