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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Book Review: Annexed by Sharon Dogar


Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (October 4, 2010)

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.


"May 1945- Peter: Austria, Mauthausen, Sick Bay I think I'm still alive. But I'm not sure. I'm ill. I must be because I'm lying down. We never lie down. In the camps there's no such thing as rest." - Prologue; Page 1Annexed

We stare at each other but not for long. We are shocked. We are scared. We are so tired and thirsty we cannot think. We cannot take it in. We have seen that they'll kill us if we do not do whatever they want—and quickly. We glance at each other before we let go of each other's hands like obedient children. 

It is only a moment—a fraction of time. But later it will haunt us. How we seemed to let go of each other so easily. 



"Peter! "


We hold each other with our eyes and then they disappear—into the dark. 

I admire Sharon Dogar's bravery. Taking on something as sacred as ANNE FRANK: THE DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL was a huge literary risk. In some ways I think it paid off, in others, I'm not so sure. 

The book can be divided into two parts, both told in the present tense through the eyes of Peter Van Pels, the boy Anne Frank wrote about in her famous diary. First, we have the time Peter spent in hiding and towards the end, Dogar transitions to the concentration camps.  For me, the most poignant storytelling was within the death camps. Sharon Dogar has stated that she used secondhand accounts to help reconstruct what a prisoner in Peter's position would've really gone through. I could tell she did her research. The scenes within the camps were well written, touching and incredibly emotional.   

We all have our own perception of Anne Frank. Sadly, the Anne I've imagined in my mind was not the same Anne that was personified in ANNEXED.  I almost wish Dogar had written about a fictional teenage boy in hiding—not the real Peter Van Pels and definitely not the real Anne Frank. I just couldn't wrap my head around Dogar's characterization of Anne. She seemed way more immature than I ever perceived her to be. This was not the Anne that I remembered from the diary.  I also had a hard time imagining Anne and Peter talking as frankly about sex as they did. To me, Anne would've been more shy and conservative regarding those types of conversations. 

This was a time in our history that we might not want to remember, but we must never forget. Despite a few reservations, I hold ANNEXED in high regard as a special book and an important one. I hope that it will inspire a new generation of young readers to learn more about the Holocaust and perhaps pick up Anne Frank's diary in the process. (Readers interested in learning more about the holocaust should note that Dogar provides many other resources at the end of ANNEXED.) I also think this would be a fantastic novel to introduce in a classroom environment.

ANNEXED was a moving testimony to the memory of not only Anne Frank and Peter Van Pels, but to all of the victims of the Holocaust. It was a beautifully written, compelling novel of bravery, pain and the enduring strength of the human spirit to survive. 

For even in our darkest times, there is always hope. 


Sharon Dogar is a children's psychotherapist who lives in Oxford, England with her family. She discovered Anne Frank's diary as a child and the again recently when her daughter started reading it. She spent many hours soaking up the atmosphere of the Annex while writing and researching her latest book.


Niecole said...

I think I've got this on my TBR list, I didnt like Anne Frank that much, but the story of the boy seems interesting, as we've never heard it from another perspective before!

Thanks for reviewing this

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Great review. I know what you mean about an author tampering with your idea of a character. That's how I feel about all the book redos where beloved characters are turned into vamps or wolves.

Bere said...

Fantastic review, Kim! I had seen this one around but I did not know it was related to Anne Frank. I remember reading Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl a while ago. I might just need to check this one out. Thanks so much for your excellent review, Kim. =)

Book Butterfly (Kim) said...

Hey Juju, I completely agree about those retellings with the vampires and zombies. Much as I love supernatural creatures, I don't want to read about Jane Austen characters turning into them! LOL