THE DEVIL'S ARITHMETIC
Yolen, Jane

(Puffin, 1988)

Reviewed by Sue Feder

Thirteen year old Hannah is tired of remembering and she's tired of hearing other people remember. Most especially, she's tired of Passover with her grandparents and what little remains of her family who, she has been often reminded, mostly died during the Holocaust. But since she's only thirteen she doesn't have much choice and it's off to Seder she goes, where she is given the privilege of opening the door to welcome Elijah.

But the prophet isn't on the other side of the door, nor is the hallway that leads to the other apartments on the floor. Instead, Hannah walks into a small Polish village where her parents are dead and she is called Chaya by the kindly aunt and uncle in whose cottage she find herself living in 1942.

Along with her family and the rest of her village, she is loaded onto a cattle car and brought to a concentration camp, where she lives through the horrors of war and comes back in time to finish the Seder a very changed girl.

This gut-wrenching story doesn't pull any punches in trying to help younger readers understand the enormity of the evil the Nazis perpetrated. Even adult readers will find the impact powerful, as the tear stains on my copy will attest to. Children should be prepared in advance for what they will read, and you should be prepared to answer some very difficult questions.