Sophie is proud of the hard work she’s done to become the top student in her class. She didn’t used to be a diligent student, but after several moves and several schools, she decided to work hard and make her parents proud.
But the day her teacher is to chalk her name on the board as top student, the reality of living as a Jew in 1940’s Germany hits hard.
The Vanishing by David Michael Slater follows the life, and afterlife, of Sophie Siegel before, during and after World War 2.
A note to parents – this is a book for older readers, I’d say at least 15, depending on their sensitivities. Slater describes devastating scenes in his book as he follows Sophie and her friend, Giddy, through the war.
Sophie witnesses the death of her parents at the hands of Nazi soldiers and the trauma of that scene forces her into a spirit- or ghost-like presence. She can effect change, is invisible to people, yet animals can sense her presence.
Once she realizes she’s invisible, Sophie vows to protect her friend and neighbor, Giddy. She follows him onto the cattle cars, into the ghetto, into the death camps and farther as she works to protect him.
Along the way, she struggles with the horrors she’s witnessing – she wants to save everyone! But she’s just one girl. A series of events leads Sophie to realize that while she cannot save everyone, she can focus on protecting Giddy. And Giddy becomes her main focus.
I have one complaint about The Vanishing – the breadth of Giddy’s, and thus Sophie’s, experience in the war feels far-fetched. The two experience every possible war scenario – the ghetto, the camps, being adopted by the camp commander, escaping into the woods and joining a rebel band, being rescued and brought to a big city, surviving a bombing… I found myself most incredulous with one of the final scenes of the war where Sophie finds herself in Hitler’s bunker.
Along the way Sophie and Giddy are separated. Sophie wanders Europe, then America, trying to discover what happened to Giddy. When she finally, accidentally, runs into him in New York City, Sophie is finally able to stop her wandering, say good-bye to Giddy, and accept her death.
Sophie’s last line sums up the book beautifully, “‘I have lived,’ Sophie said, ‘in a way that brought honor to my people. May my memory be for a blessing.’”
Recommended for the most mature readers.
I was given a digital advance copy of The Vanishing by the author. This review is completely my own.