Friday, March 23, 2012

THE LILY POND by Annika Thor

Thor, Annika. The Lily Pond. Trans. Linda Schenck. New York: Delacorte Press, 2011. ISBN: 978-0-385-74039-5. $16.99 US/$18.99 CAN. Ages 10-12

Delacorte Press has earned its reputation as a publisher of high-quality adolescent literature, particularly their translations. While Annika Thor’s The Lily Pond didn’t blow me away with quite the same force as Anne-Laure Bondaux’s A Time of Miracles (2009), it lives up to the high standard set by Delacorte.

Stephie Steiner is a Jewish refugee in Sweden during WWII. While historically Sweden was one of the few safe havens for these refugees, not all Swedes felt pleased about the influx of “visitors” to their cities, schools, and culture. Stephie faces an anti-Semitic teacher, who attempts to frame her for cheating, a chilly host family,who treats her like a servant, and even a prejudiced fellow Jewish friend, a long-time resident of the city who blames new refugees like Stephie for the recent growth of anti-Semitism.

In addition to anti-Semitic/anti-immigrant prejudice, Thor explores class identity. While Stephie’s parents were rich in Vienna, the Anti-Semitic legislation had taken all of their assets. Her meager stipend doesn’t compare to that of her peers. Her “fancy address” hides the fact that she’s simply a lodger. In addition, she befriends another girl, even poorer than she, who lives in a very small apartment with her six siblings and parents. These two factors set her at odds with many of the social butterflies at her school.

Along with these weightier issues, Thor addresses the familiar young adult problems of self-identity, first love, and friendship. Stephie’s unrequited crush (and complete misreading of this fellow’s actions) is innocuous and entirely age-appropriate.

Through these challenges, Stephie grows in self-assurance, finding her own way in a new land, largely on her own, without the help of a parent-figure.

The prose translation reads smoothly, and one scarcely notices that it is a translation at all. Stephie’s character and emotions are well-developed; I identify easily with her indecisive moments and her guilt, and her anger resonate with me as a reader. A lovely exploration of a unique episode in European history, I’d be proud to put this book on the shelves in my classroom.

Marisa Behan

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