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The Devil's Arithmetic: 10/01/10

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The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen was on my wishlist for a long time, long enough that I don't remember when or why exactly I added it. I'm a fan of her books so it's not a complete surprise that any of her books would be on the list. One of my resolutions for 2010 and the future is to work my way through the wishlist. The Devil's Arithmetic was one of the first ones I crossed off the list.

Hannah's an American child with a Jewish mother and a Christian father. It's time again for family gathering for the Passover Seder. She doesn't want to go because she's tired of hearing the same stories of the Holocaust. She feels like she's heard it all and it's time to move on. With apathy she opens the door for Elijah and finds herself transported back in time to Poland. She and her family are captured and sent to a concentration camp.

In some of the reviews I've read the set up compared to The Magic Tree House series. I disagree. Jack and Annie for the most part go on their missions willingly and with a brief idea of what to expect when they arrive. Hannah though, travels back in time without expectation and completely unwillingly. Her journey comes as unexpectedly as it does in Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce and not like Jack and Annie's quick journeys back in time. Her journey is life threatening, scary and at times horrifying.

For rating this book out of five stars, I'm struggling. While reading it, I would have given it a two. Hannah comes off as an overly self centered child in the beginning and over the course of the book transforms into a Mary Sue. But it ends with an afterword by the author explaining the personal nature of the book and her own family story that inspired it. For that I briefly gave the book a four. In thinking though about the flaws of the book, despite the awards it has earned, I am dropping the rating down to a three.

Comments (6)

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Comment #1: Monday, October, 4, 2010 at 15:59:51


I know I read this many years ago, but I just wasn't as impressed with it as with other Yolen books.

Comment #2: Wednesday, October 13, 2010 at 21:51:55


I had problems with the book too. I gave it a higher rating because of the autobiographical note at the back of the book. It just helped to put things into perspective for me. That said, I don't think I'd want to re-read the book.

Comment #3: Tuesday, October, 19, 2010 at 08:31:23


This is the only Yolen book I've read, and I really liked it, flaws and all. I hadn't expected the whole time traveling thing. I agree that her character undergoes a dramatic change, but I think anyone would change seeing what she had seen.

Comment #4: Monday, October 25, 2010 at 22:28:38


There are so many marvelous Yolen books from picture books through tween books. I personally prefer her picture books over the longer ones but they are all worth reading.

Comment #5: Tuesday, October, 19, 2010 at 08:31:54


I hope it's okay to link to your review on War Through the Generations. I'll be doing some major updates over there soon.

Comment #6: Monday, October 25, 2010 at 22:31:38


Of course. Link away.

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