Monday, February 14, 2011

Annexed - Sharon Dogar

Title: Annexed
Author: Sharon Dogar
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin, 2010 (Hardcover)
Length: 338 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Historical Fiction
Started: February 13, 2011
Finished: February 14, 2011

Everyone knows about Anne Frank and her life hidden in the secret annex - but what about the boy who was also trapped there with her?

In this powerful and gripping novel, Sharon Dogar explores what this might have been like from Peter's point of view. What was it like to be forced into hiding with Anne Frank, first to hate her and then to find yourself falling in love with her? Especially with your parents and her parents all watching almost everything you do together. To know you're being written about in Anne's diary, day after day? What's it like to start questioning your religion, wondering why simply being Jewish inspires such hatred and persecution? Or to just sit and wait and watch while others die, and wish you were fighting.

As Peter and Anne become closer and closer in their confined quarters, how can they make sense of what they see happening around them?

Anne's diary ends on August 4, 1944, but Peter's story takes us on, beyond their betrayal and into the Nazi death camps. He details with accuracy, clarity and compassion the reality of day to day survival in Auschwitz - and ultimately the horrific fates of the Annex's occupants.

I've read Anne Frank's diary numerous times throughout my life, and though it isn't my favourite primary source from the Holocaust, I do appreciate it as an extremely valuable insight into that time period. Annexed is essentially the same story you'd be familiar with if you read Anne Frank's diary, simply from Peter van Pels' point of view. Keep in mind though that this is purely author speculation except for the things she explores that were documented by Anne in her original diary, so it's good to have read Anne's diary before reading this so you know what's more truthful and what's fictional. Keeping that in mind, I found it interesting to see how Peter might have possibly felt living in the annex with 7 other people knowing he may never live to see the end of the war. I found that Peter's narration in Annexed is more introspective and speculative than Anne's in her diary. Peter questions his religion and his involvement in it, his place in the world of war, plus the usual teenage boy stuff about girls.

Some people that have read this book have questioned the sexual content the author has chosen to include. I don't personally think there's anything over the top here sexually: Peter has some wet dreams, he and Anne kiss, and they talk about their opinions of pre-marital sex, that's it. I admit it was a little weird that Peter and Anne were open to talking about certain things sexually even though they don't actually do anything physically beyond kissing, but there's nothing I found objectionable, and I've read much worse in contemporary YA novels. For people that object to the sexual discussions as unlikely given the real-life personalities of Anne and Peter, they were 14/15 and 17/18, teenagers in the very sense of the word even though it was the 1940s; who really knows what they talked about in private if it wasn't explicitly documented, so it's not completely out of the realm of possibility for me.

Again, there's not much new in terms of historical/story content here if you've read Anne's diary, you just get a different point of view of the same events. In part two, we do see Peter in the concentration camps, which was a nice addition since that part's taken more from survivor accounts with Peter's character thrown in. The writing is well done, and Peter's voice is well developed here.

If you adore the history of Anne Frank and are really intrigued by the idea of an alternate point of view, read this! If you're expecting something earth-shatteringly different from the Anne Frank story, you're not going to find it here, but I still think it's worth the read.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the angle of the photograph of the boy and the spurt of yellow colour in the title font and the Star of David on his arm.

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