Monday, October 20, 2014

The Watcher by Joan Hiatt Harlow

It's 1942 in Berlin, Germany.  Wendy has just arrived in Berlin with her newly found mother, Adrie.  Wendy's grown up her whole life in America and speaks no German.  As happy as she is to be with Adrie, it is hard for Wendy to transition to being a German girl.  The war, which seemed so remote in America, is the focus of everything in Berlin, and many things Wendy doesn't understand.  It seems she has two choices.  She can close her eyes to what's happening, or she can do something about it.

The Watcher is a companion novel to Shadows on the Sea, which I hadn't read.  Wendy was a supporting character in that book, and I guess at the end she disappears with her newly discovered mother to Germany.  I went a lot of the book thinking that it was going to turn out that Adrie wasn't actually Wendy's real mother, that it was a trick to get Wendy to Germany because they needed an American girl for some secret task.  Adrie works for the German military intelligence unit as a spy.  I guess if I'd read the other book I would have know that it was true that Adrie was Wendy's real mother.  Although honestly, I think it would have made more sense if my idea had ended up being true.

This book didn't work for me very well.  I thought it was confusing and choppy.  I didn't think it made sense for Adrie to decided that 1942 was the time to let Wendy know she was her real mother and bring her to Germany.  Even if she was completely convinced Germany was going to win the war.  Why wouldn't she have waited until after?  The story of Wendy's father didn't really make sense.  Wendy's father was Jewish and they were married briefly but then her father was jailed and Adrie got a divorce and someone was able to make it look like their marriage had never happened and then Adrie got remarried and his name is the name on Wendy's birth certificate, but then Adrie decided to send her daughter to America to be safe, and also to pretend that she was her aunt and that her sister and her husband were Wendy's parents.  Yeah.  Confusing.  And also, it's Germany.  You think a member of the Germany military intelligence unit wouldn't have been carefully investigated and it wouldn't have been found out she was married to a Jew?  I don't think so.

So the whole premise I found a bit shaky.  I liked that the book focused on a couples aspects of WWII that many people would not have heard about.  Wendy ends up volunteering at a Lebensborn Nursery.  These were places were children who had been kidnapped from other countries because they had the correct Aryan look were taken to be raised to be good German citizens.  Lebensborn also housed the children of unwed German women and German soldiers who had been approved as having German ancestors.  The children born were taken from their mothers and were considered to belong to the state.  At the nursery, Wendy meets Johanna, a girl who has been assigned to Lebensborn for "reeducation."  She is a Jehovah's Witness (Bibelforscher), one of the many groups considered undesirable by the Nazis.  All Johanna would have to do would be to sign a piece of paper swearing her loyalty to Hitler and Germany and renouncing her religion, but she refuses to do so.

As Wendy befriends Johanna and realizes that Johanna could be sent off to a concentration camp, or killed, for refusing to renounce her religion, Wendy begins to question whether her plan of ignoring the bad things happening around her is going to be possible.  Wendy also becomes friends with a blind young man she meets in the park, whose grandfather knows all about Wendy's real father.  Wendy also adopts a German Shepard puppy that couldn't make it as an SS dog.

Wendy decides she must escape from Germany and get back to the United States, and the rest of the book is planning and executing the escape.  I didn't find it especially gripping or interesting.

So, thumbs up on looking at aspects of WWII that we don't often see in middle grade books.  But the books itself I would pass on.

The Watcher comes out November 4, 2014.

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