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Books in Brief: 28 Days by David Safier; Gold Rush Girl by Avi


28 Days: A Novel of Resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto by David Safier; translated by Helen MacCormac; Feiwel and Friends, 402 pages ($18.99) Ages 12 and up.


This harrowing account of the 28-day Jewish uprising against the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto is told from the point of view of 16-year-old Mira Weiss. The first Young Adult novel by German novelist and screenwriter David Safier, "28 Days" was a bestseller in Germany where it was published in 2014.

As the novel opens, Mira is desperately seeking to avoid arrest as she roams a market buying food to smuggle back to the ghetto to support her mother and younger sister. (Her father, a doctor,  committed suicide; her mother in her depression has abdicated her parental role to Mira.)  When a handsome young stranger comes to Mira's rescue in the market, pretending to be her Polish boyfriend and giving her a passionate kiss, she finds herself with conflicted feelings, torn between the stranger and her boyfriend, Daniel, who works at the ghetto orphanage. Mira's older brother is a member of the despised Jewish police force in the ghetto. Her younger sister Hannah is a gifted storyteller, and Hannah's powerful stories of the created world of the 777 islands offer an emotional release and a refuge from the ugly realities of the ghetto. A chance glimpse of the young man who rescued her in the market brings Mira into contact with a group of Jews planning to resist the Nazis. While life in the ghetto is crowded and grim and more Jews arrive all the time, Mira discounts warnings that things are about to get drastically worse – until the Germans surround the ghetto and word comes that all Jews are to be "resettled" in the East.  Safier deftly recounts the combat action as this small group of resistance fighters, facing insurmountable odds, holds off the Nazis for 28 days. The fighters' apartment building is firebombed, their underground bunker gassed, there is a perilous journey through the sewers.

Throughout the narrative, the question is asked: What would you do to survive? What kind of person do you choose to be?  Safier's narrative includes historic figures ghetto fighter Mordechai Anielewicz, the fool Rubinstein and kindly Janusz Korczak, who ran the ghetto orphanage and stayed with the orphans in his care until their deaths.

Safier's paternal grandfather died at Buchenwald in 1940, and his grandmother died in 1942 in the Lodz ghetto.


Gold Rush Girl by Avi; Candlewick Press, 306 pages ($17.99) Ages 8 to 12.


The popular and prolific Avi, author of excellent 2018 novel "The Button War" and 2003 Newbery Medal-winner "Crispin: The Cross of Lead" among scores of books for children, takes the reader on a wild adventure to filthy, smelly, dangerous San Francisco during the Gold Rush of 1849 in this entertaining novel.

14-year-old Victoria Blaisdell finds the life of a young lady in Providence, R.I., rather dull and the influence of her domineering Aunt Lavinia oppressive. (Thanks to Aunt Lavinia, Victoria is not allowed to go to school as her younger brother does.) When her father loses his accounting job and decides to head for California with 10-year-old  Jacob to seek his fortune, Victoria hatches a plan to stow away on board and go with them.

Avi offers a wonderfully vivid picture of Victoria's shock at the reality of San Francisco: "a muddle of low, wretched, lopsided buildings. These pathetic structures came right down to the water as if they had slid off the hills into a great jumblement."  The comfortable home promised by their father is a rude tent. Enterprising Victoria, dressed as a boy, soon finds work and befriends a boy her own age; Jacob is unhappy and bored, but when he disappears one night, Victoria must use all her wits and courage to figure out what happened to him. Avi has written other books about children forced into slavery; "crimping," the kidnapping of boys to serve aboard ships, is addressed here. "Rotten Row," "a fleet of ghostlike vessels," abandoned in the bay by crews headed to the gold fields, is the backdrop for the novel's thrilling, if somewhat incredible, conclusion. The author offers a fascinating map where "Rotten Row" ships have been found in modern San Francisco.

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