Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Baby Experiment - Anne Dublin

Title: The Baby Experiment
Author: Anne Dublin
Publisher: Dundurn, 2012 (Paperback)
Length: 152 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Historical Fiction
Started: October 18, 2012
Finished: October 19, 2012

From the back cover:

Johanna is a fourteen-year-old girl who lives in Hamburg, Germany, in the early 18th century. She feels stifled by the daily drudgery of her life and dreams of seeing what lies outside the confines of the Jewish quarter. Johanna lies about her identity and gets a job as a caregiver at an orphanage. But when the babies start dying, she discovers that there's a secret experiment taking place.

Determined to escape, Johanna kidnaps one of the babies and sets off for Amsterdam. She faces many dangers on her journey, including plague, bandits, and storms. Johanna has courage and determination, but will it be enough to save the baby and reach her destination? Will she finally find a place where she can be free?

My historical fiction reading has been rather lacking lately, so when I came across this at the library I decided to give it a go.

The plot of The Baby Experiment includes several issues which makes for an interesting story. Johanna belongs to the Jewish community in Hamburg in the early 1700s, which means her family endures horrible anti-Semitism on a daily basis and their life is severely restricted compared to the non-Jewish community. Her area has also dealt with plague outbreaks, which killed Johanna's brother, sister, and grandfather. The orphanage where Johanna ends up working was set up solely as a social experiment regarding language where the caregivers are not allowed to speak to the babies. The lack of interaction means the babies experience failure to thrive and start dying, prompting Johanna to run away with one of the babies in her care.

The themes in the book are wonderful, but overall I felt like it was too short and could've benefitted from being longer and elaborated on things a bit more. I would've liked to have seen more about Johanna's life before the orphanage and the anti-Semitic measures they had to endure, those kinds of scenes make for great classroom discussion. Usually I hate 'journey narratives' because I find them boring, but the section on Johanna's journey from Hamburg to Amsterdam felt rushed and a little too convenient.

Wonderful premise with a great wealth of historical themes, but not executed as well as it could have been.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the pink on black colour scheme and the old-fashioned etching-like illustration is a nice touch as well.

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