The Forest of Vanishing Stars

Written by Kristin Harmel
Review by Nicole Evelina

Yona is a girl raised in the woods of Poland in near-isolation by a mysterious crone who kidnapped her from her parents at the age of two from her home in Berlin, before the beginning of WWII. As a result, she does not fit in with Jews, Poles or Germans – though she is all of these – her only certain identity is bound in the trees in which she was raised. Taught to be wary of people and civilization, Yona only reluctantly begins helping refugees from the Nazi ghettos all over Poland as she stumbles across them in the woods. Some she can save with her trapping, tracking, and healing skills, but others have fates she cannot change. But all that ends when a group she is traveling with stumbles into a city during the height of the war, and she is reunited with a past she can barely remember.

Normally, Kristin Harmel’s books are favorites, but this one was difficult. Though her prose is beautiful, the first 60 percent is slow and repetitive: Yona comes across people, saves them, and moves on. But once she reaches civilization, the book begins to pick up a little, though it lacks the page-turning intensity of some of the author’s other novels. While not my favorite book of Harmel’s, it is certainly a unique way of looking at the well-trod genre of WWII historical fiction, especially what happened to those who tried to escape from the ghettos. However, the whimsical, almost magical elements did not sit right with me when juxtaposed with the subject matter, and the main character is a little too heroic to be believable. This is a book some will love, but others may wish to stick to more realistic accounts.