May 21, 2019
Paper Hearts by Meg Wiviott
Genre/Categories: WW11, Holocaust, Jewish, Young Adult, Poetry, Friendship, Survival
*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.
In Paper Hearts, two unforgettable girls find themselves tragically imprisoned at Auschwitz during the Holocaust and become friends. Through the bonds of friendship and a bit of defiance, Zlatka and Fania find bits of hope and a will to live. In this true story, Zlatka, along with the help of a few other girls, masterminds making a surprise birthday card for Fania. A secret project that would be a crime punishable by death if caught, each girl signed the paper hearts card with her hopes and wishes for happiness, love, and freedom. This heart is a symbol of defiance and is one of the few artifacts created in Auschwitz that has survived and can be seen today in the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre in Canada. (see an article link and image below)
A story in free verse, Paper Hearts is a beautiful, memorable, and gently written story of friendship and survival.
Format: I don’t read a great deal of formal verse poetry, but I love stories told in free verse. Some of my favorites are listed in this post. I think the format of free verse works well for this story because in one sense it softens the harsh edges of the tragedy but in another sense, it makes the story even more poignant. The simplicity of the free verse helps to emphasize the innocence of these younger victims of the Holocaust.
Target Audience: Because Paper Hearts is written for a YA (and mature middle grade) audience, it is a gentler read than some other Holocaust stories that contain more graphic adult content. I love well written YA because readers 14-99 can appreciate and enjoy the stories.
Themes: Thoughtful themes are my favorite elements of a great read, and I love the strong themes of friendship, survival, and compassion in this story. Against all odds, these girls survive because of their determination to keep moving forward and living for one more minute. Their survival is their defiance. Zlatka and Fania become as close as sisters and help each other emotionally, physically, and mentally.
“Your kindness, Fania, makes me brave.”
“Your bravery, Zlatka makes me kind.”
Emotional: Although Paper Hearts was not filled with page after page of horrific details and descriptions, it was emotional, powerful, and poignant from the opening sentences. My eyes were teary and my heart hurt with every page … but it wasn’t an “ugly cry,” it was simply touching and profound. An example of one of the tenderest moments is when a Jewish father says goodbye to his daughter as the family is separated at the camp, and he embraces her and prays a blessing over her. I will never be able to hear this blessing again without thinking of this mental image from the story. If you were a parent in this situation, would you think to pray this blessing over your child as your family is separated? What a remarkable man and father! Her father’s blessing brought her great comfort in her darkest days and planted a spark of hope in her fight to persevere. I have tears typing this.
May God bless you and keep you.
May God shine his face upon you and grant you graciousness.
May God’s presence be with you and grant you peace.
Recommended: I highly recommend this beautiful story for all fans of poignant historical fiction, for readers who love beautifully written free verse, for parents who are searching for inspiring stories to read with their teens, and for book clubs. It will definitely be on my best of 2019 list. I should mention that it can be easily be read in one day….although I took my time with it. Don’t miss this memorable read! Here’s an excerpt (the complete first chapter) that I teased in a previous post.
Rating: 5 Emotional Stars
Meet the Author, Meg Wiviott
Meg Wiviott is the author of the award-winning picture book BENNO AND THE NIGHT OF BROKEN GLASS, which tells the story of Kristallnacht through the eyes of a cat. Her young adult novel-in-verse, PAPER HEARTS, based on a true story of friendship and survival in Auschwitz, is published by Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster). Meg holds a Masters in Education from Northwestern University and an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from The Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and their ridiculously friendly cat.
Have you ever read a story in free verse?
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Come back Friday for my review of The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister, another favorite of the year!
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