Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Publisher: Sapir Press (Feldheim)
Genre: Jewish YA
In Krakow, Poland, Serina is a spoiled oldest daughter of a wealthy Jewish family. But one Friday night, when her parents are at shul (synagogue), Johanna, their maid, persuades Serina to walk with her to the church - where she hands her over to the Felician nuns. Serina's parents try frantically to get her back, but Serina is transported to various convents across Poland and eventually out of Poland in order to keep her from her parents. Meanwhile, the nuns try to convince Serina that her parents don't want her anymore. After losing her memory due to illness - or so the nuns say - Serina believes that her place is in the convent. Years later, when she is married with a son, her father manages to contact her, but she wants nothing to do with him. When a girl who looks just like her turns up, she begins to make contact with her family again and slowly regains her memory and her love for her family, returning to them and to Yiddishkeit (Judaism).
This is actually based on a true story, which makes it difficult for me to say some of the things I think about it. But here goes - it's a little hard to believe that Serina lost her memory like that. It's implied that the nuns gave her some sort of drug and only concocted the story about her illness, and since this is based very closely on fact, it must be true, but still - a little hard to believe.
For the most part, I enjoyed reading this book. It's clear, the plot kept simple (again, can't blame or credit the author if it's all fact), and for a Jewish "tween," it's perfect. The language is slightly sophisticated at times, but it's understandable and does not talk down to the reader. The characters are easy to sympathize with, especially at the gut-wrenching scenes. The father and mother are fully developed, not just as frantic parents trying to get back their daughter. They're also shown dealing with Clarie, the younger daughter, and talking to each other, so they're fully rounded.
I felt most for Clarie, not as much for Serina. The reason, I think, is something that the author says in her acknowledgments: It appears that aside from a factual book about this story, her resources were family members of Serina, but not Serina herself. Whether that's because Serina didn't want to talk about it or because Serina is no longer living, I don't know, but it did seem to me that Serina's life behind the convent walls is not as fully portrayed as her parents' and Clarie's lives are.
I'm trying not to say this, but say it I must! The writing style is quite good, but I would say it has potential. It could have been sharpened and tightened in places, and I would have liked to see a bit more character development. I can't really say anything bad about the book, because it is good, and for a ten- or twelve-year-old, it's a good, solid read, but still, I felt there were certain points that could have been better. (It's that Jewish Book Syndrome!)