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Reviews of the 2013 Batchelder Award winners

My Family for the WarWinner: My Family for the War by Anne C. Voorhoeve; trans. by Tammi Reichel (Dial)
Franziska, raised as a Protestant but labeled Jewish by the Nazis, is evacuated from Germany by luck, sheltered by an observantly Jewish English family, and reunited after seven years with her mother at the end of WWII. This compelling and emotionally heightened novel follows Ziska/Frances as she negotiates the difficulties of belonging to two religions, countries, and families. MEGAN LYNN ISAAC


A Game for SwallowsHonor: A Game for Swallows: To Die, to Leave, to Return by Zeina Abirached; illus. by the author; trans. by Edward Gauvin (Graphic Universe/Lerner)
Comparisons to Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis are inevitable; like Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel, this book (also first published in French) presents a girlhood under fire in the war-torn Middle East. Here the setting is 1984 Beirut, a city segregated by religion with Christian and Muslim residents locked in unrelenting civil war. The story’s focus is a single harrowing night when Zeina’s parents, visiting her grandparents a few blocks away, must make their way home through heavy bombing. Neighbors have gathered in the family’s foyer — the safest place left — to wait out the shelling and hope for Zeina’s parents’ return. Abirached skillfully weaves flashbacks and explanatory asides into the narrative while maintaining the evening’s tension. Despite the oppressive atmosphere of fear and uncertainty, much-needed moments of levity shine through as neighbors try to distract Zeina, her younger brother, and themselves by telling amusing anecdotes, reenacting scenes from Cyrano de Bergerac, baking a cake, and partaking of fine whiskey. Stark, dramatic illustrations (mostly black backgrounds with white-outlined characters and features) include repeated motifs (flowers, dragons) that effectively capture elements of the culture and lend nuance to the high emotions through small changes in expression or detail. A poignant portrayal of a community determined to hold onto optimism and humanity in the face of dire circumstances. KATIE BIRCHER

Son of a GunHonor: Son of a Gun by Anne de Graaf; trans. by the author (Eerdmans)
review to come

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