Review of Just a Girl: A True Story of World War II

Just a Girl: A True Story of World War IIJust a Girl: A True Story of World War II
by Lia Levi; illus. by Jess Mason; trans. from Italian by Sylvia Notini
Primary, Intermediate    Harper/HarperCollins  144 pp.    g
3/22    978-0-06-306508-6    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-306510-9    $9.99

In a direct, first-person account (adapted from her adult book Una bambina e basta), Levi relates what happened to her and her family under the rule of Mussolini and during World War II. Brief chapters, short sentences, and a simple vocabulary give this the air of a child’s voice, but the quick, deft storytelling is that of a gifted, experienced narrator. The story starts in Turin, but when restrictions are imposed on Jewish Italians, Lia’s family moves first to Milan and then to Rome, where Papa finds work. When the Germans occupy Rome, Lia and her sisters are hidden at a Catholic boarding school, and Papa and Mama go into hiding. Lia’s impressions of her different schools, new friendships, and the conditions war brings about (“One egg for three people: that’s just one of the little tricks that war can play on you”) speak to children’s interests, and the author’s conversational style has just the right tone to make readers feel the narrator is addressing them personally. The main narrative is occasionally interrupted by “dear reader” notes—explanations and reassurances to soften the suspense of a terrifying time. Mason’s soft black-and-white illustrations make these switches clear and meaningful, as she moves from images of the youthful Lia to Lia as a grandmother, a testament of survival and Jewish cultural continuity.

From the May/June 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Deirdre Baker
Deirdre F. Baker
Deirdre F. Baker, a reviewer for The Horn Book Magazine and the Toronto Star, teaches children’s literature at the University of Toronto. The author of Becca at Sea (Groundwood), she is currently at work on a sequel—written in the past tense.

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