Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Most people know something of Auschwitz's horrors: disease and starvation; grotesque medical experiments; profound debasement of human life; and, of course, the terrible Final Solution. Iturbe's astonishing novel spares readers none of the details of these abominations, but its focus is on the relatively unknown family camp located at Auschwitz, which featured a school for the children. Dita Adlerova is the main storyteller, a teenage girl asked to serve as librarian for the school's contraband collection of eight books. Her reverence for her role and for the transformative power of the books in her care imbues Iturbe's story with a mystical quality that is in sharp contrast with the everyday torture of survival. There are other stories intertwined with Dita's, such as that of the charismatic young Fredi Hirsch, burdened by his attraction to other boys, and the hapless SS officer Viktor Pestek, in love with a beautiful Jewish girl. The novel was originally published in Spanish in 2012, and this translation, by Thwaites, captures both the transcendence of Dita's story and the deeply disturbing reality of the concentration camps. Like Markus Zusak's The Book Thief (2006), it's a sophisticated novel with mature themes, delivering an emotionally searing reading experience. An important novel that will stand with other powerful testaments from the Holocaust era. Copyright 2017 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews

January 1944: "In this life-destroying factory that is Auschwitz-Birkenau, where the ovens burn corpses day and night, Block 31 is atypical, an anomaly." It's where the children in camp BIIb, or the "family camp," are kept busy so their parents can work more efficiently--or so the Nazis think; in reality, the prisoners are running a school. Even more extraordinary, the school has a librarian: fourteen-year-old Edita Adlerova (based on a real person), in charge of eight precious, forbidden books and more "living" ones--teachers who tell the children stories they know by heart. Iturbe's remarkable account uses an immediate present tense to immerse readers in Dita's story as she goes about what constitutes daily life in Auschwitz, all the while risking everything to distribute and hide the library's books. Iturbe centers books as well, often pausing to relate the plots of the ones Dita reads (e.g., H. G. Wells's A Short History of the World); these seem like tangents but in fact serve to reinforce one of the novel's themes: that books save lives. Unlike many Holocaust accounts, where the death camps in their unimaginable horror can feel separate from real, everyday life, here Iturbe continually and crucially reminds readers that Auschwitz happened in the real world: we get dates and hard facts ("During the night of the 8th of March, 1944, 3,792 prisoners from the family camp BIIb were gassed and then incinerated in Crematorium III of Auschwitz-Birkenau"); we follow many other people's narratives--including a few who escape the camp. An epilogue tells of the protagonist's life after liberation; back matter includes a "postscript" describing the author's meeting with the real Dita (married name Kraus) when she was eighty, information about the fates of other people from the story, and a list of primary sources consulted. The front and back endpapers are maps of the concentration camp in 1944. martha v. parravano Copyright 2017 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews

A teenage girl imprisoned in Auschwitz keeps the secret library of a forbidden school. Dita Adlerova, 14, is confined in the notorious extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Compared to her fellow inmates, Dita's relatively lucky. The several thousand residents of camp BIIb are inexplicably allowed to keep their own clothing, their hair, and, most importantly, their children. A young man named Fredy Hirsch maintains a school in BIIb, right under the noses of the Nazis. In Fredy's classroom, Dita discovers something wonderful: a dangerous collection of eight smuggled books. The tale, based on the real life of Dita Polach Kraus and the events of 1944 and 1945, intertwines the stories of several real people: Dita, Fredy, several little-known war heroes, even a grim cameo from Anne and Margot Frank. Holocaust-knowledgeable readers will have suspicions about how many characters will die horribly (spoiler alert: this is Auschwitz). Yet somehow, myriad storylines told by multiple narrators offer compelling narrative tension. Why does BIIb exist? Will Rudi and Alice have a romance? What's Fredy's secret? Will Dr. Mengele subject Dita to his grotesque experiments? Dita's matter-of-fact perspective, set in a slow build from BIIb to the chaotic starvation of the war's end, both increases the horror and makes it bearable to read. Though no punches are pulled about the unimaginable atrocity of the death camps, a life-affirming history. (Historical fiction. 13-16) Copyright Kirkus 2017 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Drawing on his own interviews with Holocaust survivor Dita Kraus, who now lives in Israel, Spanish author Iturbe describes the horrors of Auschwitz-Birkenau in unflinching, straightforward prose (smoothly translated by Thwaites) that reflects his journalism background. A fierce lover of books, 14-year-old Dita helps out in the makeshift school of Block 31, the children's block in the family camp, and volunteers to take care of eight precious but forbidden books, risking certain death if she were to be found out. The role of librarian for Block 31's tiny collection gives Dita a sense of purpose in a bleak camp where death, torture, and humiliation are omnipresent. As Dita's story unfolds, alternating between her present circumstances at the camp and her memories of Prague and the ghetto of Terezín ("a city where the streets led nowhere"), Iturbe interweaves the names and stories of other survivors and victims of Auschwitz, turning the narrative into a monument of remembrance and history. All but guaranteed to send readers searching for more information, this is an unforgettable, heartbreaking novel. Ages 13–up. (Oct.)

Copyright 2017 Publisher Weekly.

School Library Journal Reviews

Gr 8 Up—Based on the true story of Holocaust survivor Dita Kraus, this novel features a protagonist who exemplifies courage in the face of death. Fourteen-year-old Dita is imprisoned at Auschwitz along with her mother and father in the "family camp." Her work assignment is to assist the Jewish leader in charge of Block 31, a section created to entertain the children so that their family can work. This block has many secrets, but the most important is that eight books were smuggled in by Jewish prisoners. Dita has been entrusted with their care, making her "the Librarian of Auschwitz." As time passes on, she becomes aware that Dr. Mengele has taken an interest in her, and while she is terrified that "Doctor Death" is paying attention to her, she finds the courage to protect her books, family, and friends at all costs. Throughout, well-known Nazi leaders and lesser-known Jewish heroes play pivotal roles, making the connection with the historical elements of the horrors of Auschwitz, and later Bergen-Belsen more credible and relatable. Despite being a fictional retelling of a true story, this novel is one that could easily be recommended or taught alongside Elie Wiesel's Night and The Diary of Anne Frank and a text that, once read, will never be forgotten. VERDICT A hauntingly authentic Holocaust retelling; a must for YA collections.—Stephanie Wilkes, Good Hope Middle School, West Monroe, LA

Copyright 2017 School Library Journal.