Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli

Like I said, I’ve been in a very Holocaust mood lately. Bear with me, the stage is over.

Jerry Spinelli has long been one of my favorite authors. He has a way of relating to and capturing his readers’ attention while very softly showing them the often hidden meaning of his books. This book is no exception.

Milkweed is about a very young boy in Warsaw around the beginnings of World War II who has no identity and no past. When an older boy catches up to him after he has stolen some bread, he gives his name as Stopthief. Uri, the older boy takes him back to a sort of base camp where other young boys steal food to support each other. Naming the boy Misha, he gives him a fake past to cover his Gypsy identity. Misha is surrounded my conflicting paths, though, because he longs to be a Jew like his friends, but would die for a pair of his own shiny Jackboots, in other words, become a Nazi.

This book is pretty short and very easy to read and even though it’s a novel for pretty young kids, it was captivating and no less brutal of a Holocaust book. Spinelli truly has a gift with words and he paints beautiful pictures, even of war-torn Warsaw. During the book, you feel as if you are growing up and learning with Misha. You see everything through his eyes and begin to see things in new ways.

The most beautiful part of the novel takes place pretty early on in the work. It’s a discussion between the boys and Misha about the existence of angels.

Some of us played hide-and-seek among the tombstones. I was It, and when I went seeking I came upon a tombstone such as I had never seen before. Rising up from a great block of stone was a man with wings. He was looking at the sky, as if he might fly off at any moment. I couldn’t take my eyes away.

“Who is he?” I said.

“It’s an angel,” said Ferdi.

“What’s an angel?” I said.

Grim-faced Enos said, “There are no angels.”

“I believe,” said Olek. He scratched the stump of his missing arm. “There are angels. You just can’t see them.”

Enos snorted. He ground out his cigarette on the foot of the stone angel. “Where were they when you got pushed to the tracks and the train ran over your arm?” He grabbed the empty sleeve of Olek’s missing arm and flapped it in his face. “Where were your angels then? Why didn’t they roll you off the tracks? Why didn’t they stop the train?” He pointed at a boy called Big Henryk. His shoes were bank coin bags. “Look at him. Why don’t the angels give him shoes? Or brains to want them? And him”-jabbing his finger at Jon, who was thin and gray and never spoke- “look at him. He’s dying and he doesn’t even know it!” Enos was shouting now. “What are your angels doing for him? He spit on the stone angel.

This book makes you think and rethink. Misha is coning from a place of complete innocence to a world that has been destroyed by people daily. He has to learn the difference between bad and good people which is a painful lesson for everyone. Spinelli is able to make a book that is fully gray have a halo of hope around it. It’s the innocence shown by Misha that makes the book so enthralling and touching.

The book didn’t have any real giant climax or epic point but instead has moments of beautiful thoughtfulness that make you stop and think about what you have just read. The discussion of the angels, the milkweed plant, all things of vital importance and beauty. Because Spinelli chooses to make the book so subtle with its meaning, it’s a Holocaust book that is easier to read, there isn’t anything really horrific. This shows the beauty in the world even during the ugliness of the Holocaust. A beautiful slice of life story and definitely a book that is worth checking out!

Until next time, happy reading! Send me your book recommendations if you have them, I’d be happy to check them out and review them all! Leave any comments below! I’d love to hear them!

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