Annexed Gives New Eyes to an Old Story
- Monday, January 23, 2012
Author: Sharon Dogar
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
There's nothing like a change in perspective to bring new life into a story. That's exactly what Sharon Dogar provides us with in Annexed. While almost everyone is familiar with The Diary of Anne Frank, it only shows us the story through Anne's eyes. In Annexed, Dogar imagines what those terrifying months of hiding—and the even more terrible aftermath—may have been like from Peter's perspective.
For those who haven't read Anne Frank's Diary since middle school, here's a quick reminder: During the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam, two Jewish families were forced into hiding in a small space—the "Annex"—located over the Frank's business. The Frank family consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Frank and their young daughters, Margot and Anne; they were joined by Mr. and Mrs. van Pels and their teenage son, Peter. (Another man later took up residence in the Annex, as well.) They stayed inside for two years and one month before someone betrayed them just before the war ended. Only Mr. Frank survived the concentration camps; he later edited and published Anne's diary of their time in hiding. Those are facts, not fiction.
But Anne Frank was only fifteen when she died (just days before her prison camp was liberated), so her diary is that of a young girl. Peter was several years older, and a boy…that's a different point of view altogether. Besides, Anne probably didn't write everything down and her father edited the diary before publication, so who knows what didn't make it into print?
Annexed seeks to answer that question. Readers will be hooked from the first chapter, where Peter toys with the idea of not showing up at the Annex at all. He's a teenage boy and there's a war on—shouldn't he be fighting or something, anything, instead of hiding? With no other viable options in sight, he reluctantly turns up at the appointed place and time.
As days turn into months turn into years, Peter struggles with the conditions and the people he's forced to share them with, but most of all he struggles to know who he is. In a world where one's label means the difference between life and death, Peter longs to be "not Jewish, not Dutch, not German, just me!" It's an inner conflict sure to resonate with teen and adult readers alike.
Anne's diary ends when the group is rounded up and sent to their deaths, but Annexed follows them to the concentration camps. While the account is fictional, the author says she was "guided by the testimony and evidence of camp survivors." It is chilling, heartbreaking, and important to read.
Whether as a companion to The Diary of Anne Frank or a standalone book, Annexed should be on every teen's reading list. It puts a human face on an era that attempted to dehumanize people and does it in a fascinating, heart-wrenching way. Boys will identify with Peter's adolescent issues, but girls will enjoy it just as much.
Written for younger readers (grades 9 and up), Annexed could probably be given a PG rating. Peter does a fair amount of musing about sex in general and girls in particular—he is a teenage boy, after all—but it's tastefully handled. Language is generally mild; pi** and sh** are used to describe the literal conditions of the train car the prisoners are forced to take to the concentration camps.
This review refers to the Kindle edition of the book, which includes a plethora of resources including a discussion guide, a resource list that includes books, links to online videos, and more, a photo album, and a conversation with the author.
*This review first published 1/23/2012
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