Review of Catherine's War

Catherine’s War
by Julia Billet; illus. by Claire Fauvel; trans. from French by Ivanka Hahnenberger
Intermediate, Middle School    HarperAlley/HarperCollins    168 pp.
1/20    978-0-06-291560-3    $21.99
Paper ed.  978-0-06-291559-7    $12.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-291561-0    $10.99

This graphic novel (adapted from a novel by Billet and inspired by her mother’s life) follows teenage Rachel Cohen from one place to another in WWII France. By changing her name to Catherine Colin and hiding her Jewish identity, she is able to live at schools and an orphanage as well as with families throughout the ­occupied and free zones, moving whenever Nazi suspicion encroaches — and always documenting her experiences with her Rolleiflex camera. Though the story covers Rachel/Catherine’s adolescence, the smoothly translated text is clear enough, and gentle enough in its explanations of the Holocaust, to be comprehensible to readers younger than the character. Themes of self-expression — Catherine’s photography is a rare constant in a life overwhelmed by change — will likely resonate with a wide variety of readers. The back matter is pitched to explain this story’s context to young people with little or no background knowledge about WWII or the Holocaust, though readers familiar with the basics may learn something new about this specific setting. Fauvel’s borderless, color-saturated panels shift in palette by location, with red-and-black darkroom scenes standing out, particularly against the black-and-white photos produced in them.

From the March/April 2020 Horn Book Magazine.

Shoshana Flax
Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, assistant editor of The Horn Book Magazine, is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons University. She was a 2019-2020 member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee.

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