Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Watcher

20759632Harlow, Joan Hiatt. The Watcher
November 4th 2014 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
Copy received from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Wendy, a character from Shadows on the Sea (2003) is taken from her home in the US by Adrie, whom she thought was her aunt but who turns out to be her mother. The two go to Germany, where Adrie has a job with the Nazi regime. Wendy, who doesn't speak German, finds it hard to adjust to her new life, but takes comfort in a "defective" German shepherd puppy she saves from being euthanized by the Nazi soldiers. She meets Barret, a blind young man, in a park near her home, and finds out that Barret's grandfather knew her biological father and promised to take care of Wendy in case she ever came back to Germany. To pass time, Wendy volunteers at a Lebensborn home, taking care of babies and young children who have been taken by their parents because they are "perfect" examples of Aryan bloodlines, even if their parents are not. There, she befriends Johanna, who is working at the same children's home as part of an attempt to reeducate her, since she has refused to denounce her religion. Eventually, Johanna comes to further grief for her beliefs, and Wendy realizes that a secret in her family's past puts her at risk, and with the help of Barret, she plans her escape from Germany.
Strengths: This is certainly a good twist on World War II and Holocaust stories. There were many Germans who thought that what Hitler was doing was right, or things would not have become as dire as they did for the Jewish population. It's easy to paint all Nazis as pure evil, but this was an interestingly  nuanced treatment of a child having to deal with a relative who was working for a side with which she herself didn't agree. Having a dog, as well as a family mystery, is a nice touch. Wendy's escape scene reminded me of the one in Number the Stars. This would be a good book to pair with that, or to use in a study unit on World War II or the Holocaust.
Weaknesses: Wendy's relationship with Adrie made this book less successful for me. The mystery surrounding her birth was rather expected. I know that Harlow wanted to pull a character from another book, but I would have liked this better if Wendy would not have been American, would have really loved Adrie, and then came to the realization that what Adrie was doing wasn't right. Something just didn't click for me personally with this one, but I think students will enjoy it.

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