Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Journey Back

The Journey Back

Johanna Reiss
Historical Fiction
For ages 12 and up
iUniverse, 2007   ISBN: 978-1402574030

World War II is finally over and Annie and her sister Sini can, after two years and seven months indoors, safely come out of hiding. They were hidden in the home of Johan and Dientje Oosterveld and, like so many other Dutch Jews, they had been saved to pick up the pieces of their former lives.

For so long the girls dreamed of this moment but now that it has come they are not sure what to do. Living with Johan, Dientje and Johan's mother Opoe, is all they have known for so long. For a while they cannot bear to leave their adopted family, and then the girls' father comes to tell them that is time to go back home to Winterswiijk.

The girls get home to discover that much has changed. Their house is filthy and most of the furniture and other goods which they put in storage are irretrievable; the people who took care of them during the war don't want to give them back. Father is grim and works long hours to rebuild his business. Annie's big sister Rachel rarely takes time for anything other than housework and religion. To their father's distress Rachel is becoming a Christian.

Annie dreams of making friends but it is not easy for a little Jewish girl whose legs are crooked and who is shy to make new friends. Too many of the old friends will never come home. Everyday the Jews of Winterswiijk read lists to see if friends and family members survived the holocaust. Very few of them have cause to celebrate.

Carefully Annie begins to build a new life for herself. She and Rachel begin to get closer again, and then Father drops a bombshell on them all – he is going to get remarried. Will his new wife like Annie? Will they get along?

Against the backdrop of Annie's more personal struggles, Johanna Reiss describes what it was like to be in Holland after World War II ended. Through Annie she tells of the terrible shortages of food, clothing, and other supplies. She tells the story of the island of Walcheren which was inundated when the dikes protecting it were breached. Many refugees from the disaster were taken in by the people in Annie's town.

At times it is painful to see how desperately Annie wants a happy family life back. She dreams of good times, friends, and loving family members and yet so few of these dreams come true. Listeners will be able to see how much damage the war did on a very personal level, through the eyes of this young girl who tries so hard to do the right thing.

This sequel to the Newbery Honor title ""The Upstairs Room"" is, like that title, the story of Johanna Reiss' own wartime experiences. It serves as a powerful tribute to the many Dutch Jews who suffered so much both during and after World War II.

Johanna Reiss's narration of her book is both touching and interesting. She brings the tale to life and, since it is her own creation, brings a special authenticity to the narrative.