Awful events occur in Once, but these events and stories need to be told. And this is Felix’s story…
For the last four years Felix’s home has been an orphanage in the Polish mountains. Something you should know about Felix is that his parents are not dead. They sent him to the orphanage to keep him safe, being a Jew at the current time is a dangerous thing to be. When the Nazis turn up at the orphanage and start burning all the books, Felix is convinced that the Nazis hate books and booksellers and fears for his parents as they are Jewish and own their own bookshop. Determined to warn his parents he runs away from the orphanage and heads back towards home. But Felix’s assumption is far from the truth as he discovers in the most harrowing and heart-wrenching of adventures.
The story is told from the view point of main character Felix and he narrates the the story of what he encounters on his journey to try and find his parents. Along the way he learns some hard truths - why the streets of his hometown are so empty, why the children are playing games of catch the Jew and why human trains of unhappy people are being marched towards the city. His journey is never uneventful as he meets the loveable Zelda, gets taken in by the warm-spirited and kind-hearted Barney, finds himself working as a dentist assistant and sneaks around the city after curfew to find supplies for the children hidden in a basement that he too hides out in.
Gleitzman has taken the horrific events that Jews suffered during World War 2 and has created a sensitive yet thrilling narrative. The horrors of war and the holocaust are carefully explored, although through the eyes of Felix there is a much more happier explanation for everything. Felix is an expert storyteller and can make the most mundane or saddest of scenes something that it isn’t. Whether he just doesn’t understand what he is witnessing or whether he doesn’t want to face up to the truth, I am unsure of. Sometimes he comes across as very bright and other times he fails to see what is directly there in-front of him. What is certain is that he is kind, caring and compassionate. From the first time he lays eyes on Zelda he does the very best for her and does everything he can to make her life easier, taking on the role of a big brother. Most of all, he wants to protect Zelda from the awful truth about her parents. I absolute adore Zelda, she is loud-mouthed and over-the-top and is already to pipe up with her line, “Don’t you know anything
Felix experiences so much on his journey; death, betrayal, friendship and hope. Gleitzman’s narrative shows the very best and the very worst of humankind as we witness extreme kindness to those who treated a human life as worthless
The book pulls no punches, the holocaust and the persecution of Jews was a diabolical act and Gleitzmann’s prose give the reader a sense of what it would have been like. It is gripping and tear-jerking and is a memorable read that will stay with you for quite some time. Barney’s words will live long in the memory, “Everyone deserves to have something good in their life at least once.”
Recommended for 10+.