Odette's Secrets: A Review
Maryann Macdonald's Odette's Secrets is a fictional retelling of a young Jewish girl's life in hiding during the Nazi occupation of France. This middle-grade historical fiction novel brings little new to the genre of Holocaust fiction, but is a strong introduction to the topic in the same tradition as classics such as When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit or Number the Stars. Odette's story opens as WWII is just beginning and persecution of Jews in France is escalating. After Paris falls to the Nazis, Odette must be rushed to the countryside, where she hides in plain sight by living with a Christian foster family and pretending to be Catholic.
The strength of this book lies in its factual accuracy. In preparation for this book, the author collaborated with Odette Meyers' son, who supplied her with his mother's poetry, film clips, autobiography, and photos (five of which are included). Maryann Macdonald does a good job weaving facts about Odette's life and the historical events taking place at the time with imagined scenarios Odette may have experienced.
Odette's story is a good introduction for children interested in how WWII and the Holocaust affected the everyday lives of kids their age. This book is not as dark or graphic as many others on this topic (it has a happy ending, and there are no scenes set in concentration camps). Odette is a strong character that middle-school aged girls will be able to relate to, but the absence of major male characters has the potential to turn off boys.
The author's free-verse prose style, ostensibly intended to create a more poetic and engaging narrative, in fact may make readers acutely aware that an adult is trying to write from a child's perspective. The format sounds not so much poetic as fragmentary and unorganized, and it is questionable whether children will appreciate the style of presentation. A straightforward non-fiction biographical account may have been preferable and more accessible to children who are interested in this topic. This book is a solid entry, but in a field with so many classics and reinterpretations of similar stories, it is difficult to see where this title will find a place.