Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Parents' Choice Awards : Books : Historical Fiction
The Other Half of Life

The Other Half of Life

Fall 2009 Historical Fiction
Ages: 12 & Up
ISBN: 978-0-375-85219-0
Hardcover Price: $16.99
Thomas is an unwilling passenger on the transatlantic steamer the St. Louis. At the age of fifteen, he has been forced to leave both his parents behind; his father, a Jew, has been captured by the Nazis, and his mother, a German Gentile, has insisted that Thomas use the last of the family's money to escape on the ship bound for Cuba. Thomas can't help but notice that most of the ship's crew are Nazis, and he doesn't trust the kind treatment all of the Jews are receiving. Thomas's only outlet for his anger is to play chess, the way his father taught him, and to hope that he can beat the Nazi first mate Manfred in a game, if not in life. He can't help but be annoyed that his new friend, pretty and vivacious Priska, is bubbly with excitement and seemingly unaware of the danger faced by everyone on board. However, as the St. Louis nears its destination, only to be turned away, Thomas realizes that Priska is stronger and less naïve than she appears.

Teen readers are likely to be interested in the historical tale of the St. Louis and the United States' less-than-honorable role in turning the escapees away. This novel is well-written and readable, drawing the audience in to share Thomas's resentment, confusion, and anger. The combination of history, romance, coming-of-age story, and mystery makes for an effective and satisfying whole.

Naomi Lesley   ©2009 Parents' Choice
Naomi Lesley taught middle and high school English for six years. She is currently in a doctoral program at the George Washington University, focusing on American young adult literature.

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