Sunday, September 22, 2019

Broken Strings

Walters, Eric and Kacer, Kathy. Broken Strings
September 10th 2019 by Puffin Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In the aftermath of 9/11, seventh grader Shirli Berman is living in New Jersey and hoping to get the lead in the school play, since she has taken singing lessons for quite some time. Her older brother, Adam, is in medical school, and her professional parents are very busy, so this is a good distraction for her in the wake of her Bubbie. She also makes sure to check on her Zayde, a retired accountant. When she is checking Zayde's attic for props for the school production of The Fiddler on the Roof, in which she was cast as Golde, to her disappointment, she finds a poster of a family band featuring a young boy she identifies as her grandfather. When she asks him about it, he is angry with her for going through his things, since he had directed her grandmother to get rid of the poster and other items years ago. After a bit, however, he starts to share pieces of his past with her. The boy playing Shirli's stage husband, Ben, comes to talk to Zayde and hears more of his story. Zayde even plays the violin for the two. After years of not speaking about his experiences hiding from the Nazis with his family and playing in a concentration camp orchestra, Zayde starts to process his past while telling Shirli about it. When the play's director is injured in an auto accident, the play is suspended, which makes Ben and the other eighth graders sad. Shirli had hoped that Zayde would come see her in the play, since it was one of Bubbie's favorites, but she is still a bit surprised when he agrees to direct the production. He is able to make the actors draw connections between the current, post 9/11 climate and the pogroms of the early twentieth century and the Holocaust, thereby deepening their performance as well as his connections with his family.
Strengths: This was a very interesting account of a Holocaust survivor coming to terms with his past. In this day and age of "share everything", it's hard for young people to understand that people didn't talk about trauma in the past. Shirli is very loving and kind to her grandfather, and wants to know what happened to him, but also realizes that it is difficult for him. The connection with the grandfather's violin playing and the play works well. The light romance between Ben and Shirli is charming. I think that Walters can write on just about any topic, and I now what to investigate books by Kacer, who has written extensively about the Holocaust.
Weaknesses: I wish there had been more about the grandfather and less about the production of the play. I now feel a little compelled to watch Fiddler on the Roof, though! (My father is sappily fond of Sunrise, Sunset, but I've never seen the movie.)
What I really think: I will purchase, and this is a great choice for readers who have to check out a book about the Holocaust for an 8th grade unit but aren't interested in too many details about the concentration camps. It also might get read by students who really want to read about plays.

Ms. Yingling

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