Friday, September 28, 2018

The Length of a String by Elissa Brent Weissman, 2018

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Imani knows exactly what she wants as her big bat mitzvah gift: to meet her birthparents. She loves her family and her Jewish community in Baltimore, but she has always wondered where she came from, especially since she's black and almost everyone she knows is white. When her mom's grandmother--Imani's great-grandma Anna--passes away, Imani discovers an old diary among her books. It's Anna's diary from 1941, the year she was twelve--the year she fled Nazi-occupied Luxembourg alone, sent by her parents to seek refuge in Brooklyn. Written as a series of letters to the twin sister she had to leave behind, Anna's diary records her journey to America and her new life with an adopted family. Anna's diary and Imani's birthparent search intertwine to tell the story of two girls, each searching for family and identity in her own time and in her own way.
(384 pages)

I loved it.

There's no point beating around the bush. I really, really enjoyed reading this book. I love reading about Imani's struggles to fit in as a black adoptee in a white Jewish neighborhood. I love how Weissman portrayed Imani's thirst for knowledge about her birth family, while still loving her adoptive family more than anything. I love that her little brother is also adopted but has no interest in his birth parents, which represents the diversity in outlooks of adoptees.

Anna's story is a lot less fun to read than Imani's in places, but it was just as well done. Her story was similar to many other WWII refugee books I've read over the years, but there were enough details–such as the coat piecing plant, where Anna comes to help her foster father and the stingy uncles.

The uncles themselves were a great addition to the story, because they were both horrible and pathetic. I love nuance in a children's book. The details about Anna's family and her relationship with her siblings (especially her identical twin Belle) were both wonderfully done and incredibly sad. Watching her unravel her parents' thought process as they chose which of their children to send to safety was especially heartbreaking. So was seeing Anna's struggle to balance her love for America with her homesickness and, later, her sorrow for what European Jews were being subjected to.

It was kind of cool to be learning Anna's story alongside Amani, as Amani read each entry in her great-grandmother's diary and reacted emotionally to each new development. When there was information we readers needed that wasn't available from Anna's diary perspective, Amani would Google a topic or ask an older family member to get the answer. It was a smart storytelling technique, a story within a story, and I kind of wish more books did it.

Having made it very clear that there was a lot I liked about The Length of a String, I should add a few negatives. Anna's story is an interesting one but, as I said before, I've read a lot of WWII refugee books. Without Amani's story and reactions to reading her diary, I probably would have been a little less absorbed with it. Also, I felt like Amani was pretty selfish, digging into her adoption against her mother's express wishes. I would have preferred if she had been brave enough to convince her parents before she started searching, rather than reacting after she was caught. But then, she's only twelve and she has her heart set on finding her biological roots. It makes sense that her decision-making process isn't quite as mature as it could have been. Anyway, I really loved how that storyline was concluded.

All in all, this is just such a nice, solid, thought-provoking read which I very much enjoyed. If you like the looks of the description, then you probably will enjoy it, too!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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