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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A Holocaust In China--Wonderful YA Fare

Title: Shanghai Shadows
Author: Lois Ruby

Publisher and/or Distributor: Holiday House, Inc.
Publisher Website:
Pages: 284
ISBN: 0-8234-1960-6
Price: $16.95
Publishing Date: 2006
Reader: Bob Spear
Rating: 5 hearts

This superb young adult book chronicles in a fictionalized form the escape of 20,000 Jews from Austria in 1939 when the Nazis take over that country to the only country that will accept them—China. They are gathered into the foreign compounds of Shanghai. They soon discover that the encroaching Japanese may be just as bad as the Nazis. The story centers on a family of four—father, mother, older brother, younger sister—who steadily find their quality of life declining, along with everyone else’s. The concert violinist father and the caring mother find very little work. The brother and sister find themselves involved in an underground spy group and risk their lives and freedom almost daily.

Beyond its historical significance, this is a revealing story about family relationships under extreme stress. Seen through the eyes of Ilse, the young daughter, we witness what it’s like to only be able to find a handful of hours of minimum wage work in a totally alien country. Just when the reader believes the plot has become totally predictable, the author throws an incredible relationship twist (ah, ah, no peeking) into the story that takes our breath away. Just when you think it cannot get worse, it does so in a huge way.

Lois Ruby has become the social conscience of a whole generation of uninformed children. Without the usual histrionics of many holocaust books, she builds plausible stories with relationships that can be understood by teens and tweens to illustrate how bad this timeframe was. She has also done the same for the Civil War timeframe (Steal Away Home). It is no wonder why this retired librarian continues to win accolades for all her books. We rated this book five hearts.

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