As a young girl, I read The Diary of Anne Frank, and count it as one of the most cherished books I have ever read. It wasn't just the story of Anne that I loved, but the way she wrote that brought the people to life and made their story even more sad. And so, I was thrilled to find the book, Annexed, by Sharon Dogar while going through a box of new Young Adult books recently. The cover is haunting and the tag line reads: "The powerful story of the boy who loved Anne Frank." I knew I had to read Peter's story!
In July of 1942, during the German invasion of Holland, the Franks went into hiding in an active office building in Amsterdam--hiding only because they were Jewish. They had arranged for another Jewish family to join them, the Val Pels. Although the space was very small and the danger for all of them would be grave, the Franks felt that this was the right thing to do. Later, they allowed a dentist to hide with them in their quarters.
There were eight people sharing this tiny space: Otto Frank, Edith Frank, Margot Frank, Anne Frank, Hermann Van Pels, August Van Pels, Peter Van Pels, and Dr. Pfeffer. The eight shared this hiding place for two years. The living conditions were deplorable. There was no way to be clean. They could not speak or laugh or sneeze because any sound at all could betray them. Their protectors tried to keep them fed and clothed, but they, too, were starving so had little to offer to the Jews in hiding.
Imagine how you would live through those difficulties. Then imagine the mental strain the group was under as well: living day to day with people you don't know, or even particularly like; privacy is not an option; leaving is not an option. The three young teens lost their most precious years being locked away without the things that bring children happiness.
And this is the heart of the story of Annexed--the story as told by young Peter Van Pels, who, at only 16 when he went into hiding, left behind his friends, his love and a life of teenage joy. He didn't even like the Frank girls very much, and was especially annoyed by Anne. When he first arrived, he was mourning the loss of a girl he had left behind, and also mourning the loss of the possibilities he saw for himself. Always in the back of his mind was the idea that they would be found or would die in hiding and he would never live the life he had imagined for himself. What I found so heartbreaking is that a young boy would have to think about these things. To have to live in captivity with no way to make a life or follow your dreams must have been crushing. Peter cried for things we easily take for granted: The idea of being in love, or having the sun shine on your face, feeling a breeze, or laughing out loud. The ability to walk down the street and be just Peter Van Pels, not Peter Van Pels, JEW.
As the two years pass, the eight suffer their trials and also grow to love each other. Peter becomes close to Anne and Margot but is drawn to Anne's vivacity and her passion for the life she knows they will have once they can be free. Anne is full of hope, and gives Peter hope, too! He is fascinated and sometimes jealous of her love for keeping her journal. At times you feel like Anne and Peter's love is growing out of fear that they will never know anything else. Their few shared moments alone are so tender but so fleeting. As they share their feelings about issues that no children should have to worry over, you come to realize that they really care for each other.
Recommended by Donna Nichols