The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
When I was fourteen years old, I was nominated by my school district to receive an award known as the Raoul Wallenberg award. This honor was given to one kid from each school district in the state, and less than twenty kids per school are nominated to be considered for the honors program. The award was given to those whom school officials believed to emulate the spirit of Raoul Wallenberg, who selflessly saved hundreds of thousands of Jews from Nazi death camps in Budapest.
Fast-forward five, six years later, and I’ve picked up this book for Yearning for YA. The writing just felt okay to me, and the first few chapters are by no means the most thrilling, but once this story got going it really began to click with me.
I honestly felt genuine fear and frustration throughout the story, and that tells me that the author did a really nice job capturing the fear and uncertainty for the people in the death camps. I liked how both present and past came together in this story to show the main protagonist the true significance of the persecution of the Jews in the WWII period, so she better understood why her family in the present came together and gave thanks for the life they live in the present.
After all, the people in power during that time, toward the end of the war, tried to clean up their mess, but it still remains a stain on world history, and there is a reason we will never forget it. And the author illustrated that perfectly.
There is one small thing that bothers me, though. As I said, present and past connect in this story. The main character gets transported to the 1940s by opening a door in the present day and suddenly the present day is gone and she lives in the WWII era and it’s as if the present hadn’t occurred yet. This bothered me because it is never explained how she ended up in the 1940s, not to mention how she returned to her present family. I wanted a solid explanation for that, and I felt cheated.
Otherwise, though, it was a pretty nice little story with a very profound message to give.
Honestly, back when I received the Wallenberg award, I didn’t understand what the big deal was about what he’d done. But with this little peek into the history for the Jewish people, I feel like I finally understand why people like him are so honored and remembered.
Heroes don’t just exist in storybooks, after all….