An amazing story of survival, this book kept me spellbound at the horrors this young girl had to endure. I liked that the author didn't hesitate to drop the reader right into the middle of Auschwitz and the tearful separation between family members. The author incorporated a ton of details about the camp itself and the experience of the prisoners. The research required for such a work as this was evident throughout the book.
At the beginning, I did feel the lack a bit of an introduction to Hanna and her family. Yet, as the story went along, that lack didn't seem to matter so much. The author does a fantastic job in introducing her characters and letting her readers get to know them throughout the narrative. As a result, I felt every emotion, heartache, and burst of hope after all the horrors were over.
I felt like I got to know the character of Hanna, just as well as if she was my own little sister experiencing this trial. She’s a thoughtful character who’s devoted to her family and artistic craft. She dedicated herself to helping her sister when she got the opportunity to get a better job and was broken when she couldn't always follow-up on that dedication. Yet, there were also moments where the young, innocent teenager showed through as well: her undying belief that her parents are alive and just somewhere else in the camp and her momentary flashes of selfishness when she just eats the food available rather than saving it to split with Erika.
I do have a bit of an issue with this book being touted as a “romance”, though. Sure, there is tenderness between Karl and Hanna, and I enjoyed that journey toward what might have been called “romance” in the future. What scenes they had together were powerful in their subtlety and hints at what could be/might have been. But at the end of the day, it just feels that the power of Hanna’s survival story and her piano talents were the star of the story (not that that’s a bad thing, it’s a great story!). Karl almost seems sidelined as a secondary thought, which is a sad point as he had a ton of potential.
Beyond a bit of wrong billing and a lack of introduction to the book’s players, this book was a fantastic look at a young girl’s journey through hell, out to the other side. The author does a fantastic job at characterization for her main character and in creating a setting of true horror that transported this reader smack dab into that hell. Don’t let the fact that this isn't really a romance turn you off; the story of a young girl navigating the Holocaust stands firm on its own as a fantastic reason to read this book. Recommended for readers of Holocaust fiction, especially the YA readers, and for the 70th anniversary it Auschwitz's liberation.