The Devils Arithmetic by Jane Yolen

The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen

Hannah never wanted to remember what happened to her grandparents and aunt when they were children in the Holocaust. Now that she is experiencing it for herself, she realizes that the memories are all they have. All of their possessions and many of their loved ones are all gone and all that remains are the things they can remember. Hannah isn’t sure how she ended up in a village in the 1940’s. She was (not really) enjoying the Passover Seder at her grandfather’s house when she opened the door for the prophet Elijah, per tradition, and found herself in Poland. People were calling her Chaya, her Hebrew name, and she could understand Yiddish. Hannah also understood when she saw the line of officers near a distant village that they were Nazi’s. The memories of her real life that she was clinging to forced her to warn the others of what was to come but they wouldn’t listen. It was too late. As Hannah was loaded into the trucks, and eventually into the box cars she realized the worst was yet to come.
The Devil’s Arithmetic is an emotional, captivating, young adult novel that handles with great sensitivity the horrors of the Holocaust. I honestly feel like children have a really hard time being empathetic towards traumatic events they have never experienced. Not all children, but Hannah definitely fits into that mold. Experiencing the Holocaust and the routine of horror that she does as Chaya in 1942 will forever change her view on life. She struggles throughout the novel with what version of her life is real, the one of the unnamed family or those that she is currently experiencing. It was an interesting internal dialogue. Hannah knows that millions of Jews die but how does she know that with such conviction? How can any of this be happening or any of it be real?

I really enjoyed this novel. It was heart wrenching, well written and appropriate for the age range it was intended for. Yolen wasn’t overly graphic with what occurred in a concentration camp but she was able to depict that is was a harsh reality. I was invested in the outcome of all the characters even though I knew there was no happily ever after to be had in this story. Yolen did a great job with creating a novel that could represent this horrific moment in history and divulge a great amount of emotion. I give it 4 out of 5 stars and would definitely recommend it. It’s intended for younger readers but I think everyone would enjoy it. 


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