Saturday, April 5, 2014

Hidden


Hidden is a book about family and also about the Holocaust. It might be simplistically called Maus for middle schoolers, but that facile description detracts from this book's unique and powerful approach to depicting one girl's experiences and the effects of these events on her adulthood and role as a mother and grandmother.

The main narrative happens in France, and the main character is Dounia. We see the treatment of Jews through her young, naive eyes. Her parents try to shield her from the oppression and mistreatment, explaining that the Star of David she is obligated to wear is actually a symbol of her new job as sheriff. Little by little she sees through that facade to the injustices being done to her, her family, and her friends.
Eventually, she is separated from her family and has to pretend to be another couple's child. For her safety she is sent to life in the country, and she fears she will never see her parents again.
This tale is framed with sequences of Dounia as an old woman. She tells her story to her granddaughter Elsa, and it turns out that this is the first time she has said anything about her childhood to anyone in her family, including her own children. This revelation opens up some old wounds, and casts more light on the pain, suffering, and effects of this historical atrocity.

I found this book powerful and deceptively complex, an informative and evocative tale in the form of a child's account. It contains a combination of extremes that balance each other well, tempering its horrors with art that recalls Schulz's Peanuts with its aura of childhood, wisdom, and innocence. The story was direct, compelling, heartbreaking, redemptive, and full of suspense and drama. I really enjoyed reading it and was moved much more than I thought I would be.

This book is the product of a trio of French creators, writer Loic Davillier and artists Marc Lizano and Greg Salsedo (all their websites are in French).

Hidden does an excellent job explaining the realities of the Holocaust to a middle grades audience (any audience really), and it has received a number of very positive reviews. Terry Hong remarked that this book effectively tells a story that is horrible and relatable, stating that "the French creative team proves spectacularly adept in balancing the nightmare with moments of innocent humor (“pink shoes”), unexpected laughter (“‘Does Grandpa know you were in love with another boy?’”), and joyful discovery (“‘I did it! I did it!’”)." Publishers Weekly also stated that the book "balances the cruelty of the persecution she experiences with the miraculous generosity of her neighbors." There are a number of other reviews at Library Thing, and one called this book "Highly Recommended."

Hidden was published by First Second. They provide a preview and much more here.

Thank you, Gina, for the review copy!


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