The Winter Orphans

Written by Kristin Beck
Review by Lorelei Brush

This stirring World War II novel of courage and sacrifice focuses on 100 Jewish orphans whose parents send them to France in 1942 for their safety. The children are housed in an old chateau paid for by the Swiss Red Cross and overseen by a stiff martinet called Rosli. The protagonist is a teenager, Ella Rosenthal, who is desperate to protect her wild younger sister, Hanni, while slowly succumbing to the love of a fellow teenager. When the Nazis come for the older children, Rosli refuses the soldiers entry but knows their respect for her orders will wane quickly. She commits herself to spiriting the teens to safety across the border to Switzerland. Ella is torn between loyalty to her sister, who is viewed as too young for the arduous journey, and the desire to run away with her young man. The tension rises quickly.

Excellent prose draws the reader immediately into the story, and Beck’s ability to ratchet up the tension page by page makes the book hard to put down. In my case, it kept me up well into the night. The life-or-death consequences of the string of quandaries facing the main characters force the teenagers into the forest to join the Resistance, deepen the bond between them, push Hanni beyond the physical limits of most young children, and provide the reader with a constantly burgeoning picture of terror and bravery. Highly recommended!