When the World was Ours by Liz Kessler. Aladdin, 2021. 9781534499652
Rating 1-5 (5 is an excellent or starred review): 4.5
Genre: Historical fiction
What did you like about the book? Leo, Max and Elsa are best friends living in Vienna, Austria in the 1930s. One summer day they go with Leo’s family to ride the ferris wheel. They have an amazing time and make an indelible memory captured by Leo’s father, Mr. Grunberg, and his camera. They also meet a British couple and make a quick, but important friendship.
This opening tableau is one of the few happy scenes in the book. Europe is changing and Leo and Elsa’s status as Jewish citizens makes things increasingly unsafe. Meanwhile, Max is bullied at home by his father. When the three split up (Elsa to move to Czechoslovakia where her family hopes they will be safe from anti-semitism and Max for his father’s job in Hitler’s regime), their stories take very different paths. Elsa and Leo are in near constant danger as their family and friends, and eventually Elsa, are rounded up and put in ghettos and camps. Leo’s family ends up contacting the British family they spent the day with years before and asking if they will sponsor their escape from Vienna to England. Max becomes a German Youth and later a Hitler Youth, which helps him find meaning and security.
The three stories alternate; Leo and Elsa are in first person, but Max’s toxic perspective is in third person, a smart choice by the author. The book is impossible to put down; I found myself racing to the dramatic conclusion with my heart in my throat. Heartbreaking, engaging, and a testament to the power of friendship. The author’s note about the historical truth to this story makes the book all the more meaningful; she would not even be alive today were it not for the British couple who saved her young father.
Anything you did not like about the book? No. It was a gripping story.
To whom would you recommend this book? Students who are interested in reading about the Holocaust will definitely like this book.
Who should buy this book? All elementary and middle school libraries
Where would you shelve it? Historical fiction
Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes!
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Laura Gardner, Dartmouth Middle School, Dartmouth
Date of review: 7/21/21