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Review of Almost Autumn

kaurin_almost autumnstar2 Almost Autumn
by Marianne Kaurin; trans. from the Norwegian by Rosie Hedger
High School    Levine/Scholastic    281 pp.
1/17    978-0-545-88965-0    $17.99    g
e-book ed.  978-0-545-88966-7    $10.99

Ilse Stern, a typical rebellious, lovelorn adolescent, lives with her Jewish family in 1942 Nazi-occupied Oslo, where her father, Isak, runs a tailor shop. A present-tense narration creates immediacy, while quotidian details provide connection (“she feels the warmth of the sun on her face and basks in the light, dust blowing up from the road and the leaves crackling beneath her feet as she wades through them”). But throughout everything runs an oppressive sense of dread — telegraphed through Kaurin’s spare, tense prose — as we learn that Ilse’s school has closed, that Isak must scrub ugly anti-Semitic graffiti from his shop window each morning, that the family spends nights in an air-raid shelter with neighbors who no longer speak to them. Then, Isak is arrested in a citywide roundup in October; Ilse’s mother and sisters, a month later. The novel explores the nature of chance and fate as Ilse escapes arrest only because she happened to have stayed out all night after a fight with her mother. Kaurin skillfully blends into her narrative the stories of two other people: Ilse’s longtime crush Hermann Rød, secretly a member of the Resistance; and jovial married-man Ole Rustad, who in the end risks everything to drive Jews in hiding to safety — including Ilse, who is eventually smuggled out of Norway into neutral Sweden. It should be noted that the novel’s immediacy becomes almost unbearable at points (for instance, when Ilse’s mother and sisters enter the shower room at Auschwitz). Not an easy read, and one that requires historical context for full comprehension; an appended note supplies some of the necessary background but by no means all.

From the January/February 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Martha V. Parravano About Martha V. Parravano

Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.

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