Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Tamar

Tamar

Mal Peet
Historical Fiction
For ages 14 and up
Candlewick, 2007   ISBN: 978-0763634889

It is 1944 and the allies are beginning to hope that they will soon be able to defeat the Germans. Two young men codenamed Tamar and Dart are going to do what they can to help in this effort. Like all the members of their team they were named after rivers. These two are Dutch and the plan is that they will parachute into Holland where they will try to get the various resistance groups to cooperate and to work towards a common goal. It is especially important to try to get the resistance fighters to agree not to attack German targets. These days the cost of such attacks is just too high because the Germans kill hundreds of Dutch prisoners every time the resistance targets the occupying forces. On the mission Dart is going to be the radio man and Tamar will be doing the legwork.

Tamar's home base is the Maarten's farm, a place he has used before. A young woman called Marijke and her grandmother live there, and Tamar and Marijke quickly resume the relationship that they began the last time Tamar stayed at the farm. Dart stays at an asylum for the mentally ill which is a bike ride away. He comes to the farm regularly and he quickly falls for the lovely and kind Marijke who makes him feel safe and normal.

At first Dart does not realize that Tamar and Marijke are lovers but then, one night, he sees them together and his pain is acute. His resentment towards Tamar, which has been growing over the weeks, becomes acute. Tamar is not the one who is a sitting duck for the Germans. He is the one who gets to say in the warm farm house and who gets to do the exciting work. He is also the one who has the girl. It is just too much.

It is 1995 and fifteen year old Tamar is trying to solve a puzzle. Her grandfather - who gave her the name Tamar - has committed suicide. He left her a box containing an unfinished crossword puzzle, a photograph, some money, piece of silk with writing on it, some maps, and an identity booklet which came from WWII Holland. Tamar knows that her grandfather is trying to tell her something and with the help of her Dutch "cousin" Yoyo, she begins to put the pieces together.

This beautifully crafted book, with its tale of suspense, mystery, tragedy and loss, is unforgettable. The tale shifts between the events taking place in 1944-1945 and those taking place in 1995, and this device adds levels of interest which would not be present otherwise.

The author creates a vivid picture of what it must have been like to be a secret agent working in Holland during WWII. He also shows us how hard life was for the Dutch, trying to survive under the boot of Nazi Germany. One never knew who to trust and there was always that fear that the Germans would appear at ones door. And yet, in this fear filled atmosphere, loved bloomed as it always does. Unfortunately for Tamar, his love for Marijke brings out the worst in his partner Dart, and the price they all pay is a fearful one which continues to affect future generations.

This book won the prestigious Carnegie Medal in 2005.


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