White bird by R.J. Palacio
Penguin Books, 2019. ISBN: 9780241397244.
(Age: 12-16) Highly recommended. R.J. Palacio's debut graphic novel concentrates on Julian, a character from her previous novel Auggie and me. For his humanities project, Julian Facetimes his grandmother to converse with her about her life. In their conversations, it is obvious he has regrets about his bullying past and his grandmother, Sara, recounts a tale of her relationship with a boy, Julien, from her class. Due to a disfigurement of his legs from polio, Julien was known as 'Torteau' which means crab and was bullied by others in the class. Sara was a student when the Nazis invaded her home in France. Her family were Jewish and at risk from the Nazi occupation. She reveals her harrowing story to her grandson but also remembers the kindness, love and loyalty she received from the most unlikely people.
The digital illustrations clearly depict the emotions and at times the horror of war. There are several scenes depicting death, but they are not overly explicit.
This story highlights the effects of the Holocaust on the Jewish community during WW2 and the impact the deportation of Jews to Concentration Camps had on families and individuals, but the main focus of the novel is the relationship between Julien and Sara and all she learns about herself and others.
Each chapter is preceded by a quote that highlights an important message from the story. Perhaps the most poignant today is George Santayana's message, 'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it', for the ending of the book links back into the present and the toxic aspects of modern-day American (and world) politics.
R.J. Palacio dedicates this book to her mother-in-law Mollie and Mollie's Jewish relatives who all perished in Nazi occupied Poland during WW2. The glossary gives the reader more information about the historical aspect to the novel and a suggested further reading list.
There is a small logo of the Wonder cover illustration on the front of the book to highlight the connection to R.J. Palacio's novels.
I highly recommend this book to 12 to 16+ year olds.