I read Odette’s Secrets in an evening, drawn in by it’s lyrical prose and unique perspective on a child survivor of the Holocaust, and found Maryann Macdonald’s novel deserving of a spot on the shelf next to Number the Stars if not quite Anne Frank.
The book is inspired by the real life of Odette Meyers, a young Jewish girl growing up in Paris whose father is taken away to the Nazi work camps. Her mother joins the resistance, and sends Odette to live in the French Countryside, where she pretends to be Catholic and lives with a family there.
The book is written in free verse, all in the voice of Odette, which means it looks at the horrors of the Holocaust through the lens of a child’s innocence. Odette’s family was culturally Jewish but not religious, and she is charmed by the rituals of the Catholic school she hides in, even as she wrestles with what it means to be Jewish.
After I gave a book talk on it to my class, I was surprised to see one of my boys who usually gravitates towards NBA player biographies had checked out Odette’s Secrets for his Readers’ Workshop selection. For the next few days, it was in his hands every time he had a free second — I would catch him with it in his lap, sneaking looks at it even when he was supposed to be doing other things.
I never once considered stopping him. When a basketball-playing boy from Texas is connecting with a girl of the Holocaust through a novel written in poetry, that is a sacred space.