'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Thursday 11 November 2010

Review: Once

Oh my.

There's a reason I have never read a single book on the Holocaust - other than the Diary of Anne Frank, and even that was an emotionally-wringing experience for me... it's because I just can't cope with the heart-wrenching insanity of it all.

The soul-level disbelief.

Then there was Once. I did it. I read it. I wept like a destitute waif, but I got through it and I have never been more glad of any book read in my life.

Then there were the subsequent books - Then and Now... but I will talk more of them on Kids Book Review later. Suffice to say this first book in Gleitzman's trilogy of brilliance is an absolute and utter must-read for every child. Every human being, for that matter.

I actually don't want to say much about the storyline in this book - because anything I say will just spoil it. Each page needs to be savoured like the finest bittersweet chocolate.

It's clear Gleitzman has written Once from a point of pure emotion. The book is essentially a glimpse into the heart and soul of a young boy who is sent to a Catholic orphanage by his Jewish parents in order to escape the rolling wave of terror that is the Nazis. It's the story of his 'escape' and subsquent journey into hiding, running, falling, rising...

But what is most precious is the innocence of this young lad (let's call him William, but I am whispering to you with fear in my heart that his real name is Felix) - the wide-eyed purity of belief that his parents will be back for him. That they won't have been carted like cattle to slaughter - that these bookshop owners and loving parents would never abandon their son.

The gently unfolding terror and the warm innocence of Felix are what causes your heart to very quietly tear in two during Once. It's not the open massacre of children. It's not the starvation and depletion of souls. It's not the senseless violence and crushing of life and tearing of love from limb to limb.

Gleitzman has created a literary masterpiece in Once. There's little more to be said about it. How - in all of heaven and earth - my young daughter's year 4 teacher held herself together long enough to read this book to her class, I will never, in all my born days understand - because I'm a blubbering fool right now just writing this review.

This is an important book. A crushing book. And a beacon of light. The voice, the characters, the tone, the loss, the hope. You owe it to your children to hand them this book. Yes, it is sometimes graphic but it is beautifully handled and exquisitely done.

I recommend Once for children aged 9 and up. If your child is particularly sensitive, read it with them.

Read it anyway.

Breathtakingly terrible. Please read it.

Title: Once
Author: Moriss Gleitzman
Publisher: Penguin, A$16.95RRP
Publication Date: 1 August 2005
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780143301950
For ages: 9+
Type: Junior Fiction