Synopsis: After being stolen from her wealthy German parents and raised in the unforgiving wilderness of eastern Europe, a young woman finds herself alone in 1941 after her kidnapper dies. Her solitary existence is interrupted, however, when she happens upon a group of Jews fleeing the Nazi terror. Stunned to learn what’s happening in the outside world, she vows to teach the group all she can about surviving in the forest—and in turn, they teach her some surprising lessons about opening her heart after years of isolation. But when she is betrayed and escapes into a German-occupied village, her past and present come together in a shocking collision that could change everything.
Her age made her particularly invisible to those who cared most about appearance and power; they assumed she was useless to them, a waste of time, a waste of space.
Jerusza had seen the baby glowing, even then, a light in the darkness no one knew was coming.
Life changed all the time, but the stars were ever constant.
But the universe was about balance, and so for each method of death, Jerusza taught the girl a way to dispense healing, too.
Hanukkah wasn’t among the most important Jewish holidays, but it celebrated survival, and that was something anyone who lived in the woods could respect.
But she was already gone, vanishing into the trees like a gust of wind, until it was as if she had never really been there at all.
With clean writing and a solid understanding of the characters she’d created, Ms. Harmel drew me in with the first few pages. And I’m not easily impressed, especially when it comes to a novel’s first fifty pages. The scenes are set with little yet vivid description, and they serve to move the story along from the very beginning. The only time it felt a little rough was the story’s “backstory,” where events that led to the start of World War II were laid out. But I suppose, in historical fiction, that is sometimes unavoidable.
There is also a bit of mysticism in the story’s initial pages I wasn’t expecting. I don’t know much about Jewish customs of beliefs, so I have to wonder if some research was done in this respect to create Jerusza’s character. But this isn’t Jerusza’s story. It’s Yona’s, and how she was raised and how she became involved in the happenings of World War II.
By the time I actually reached page 60, we experienced several important events. Those I’ll not spoil, because I don’t believe in writing reviews that may ruin the story for potential future readers. If you are a fan of World War II stories, I would definitely recommend you pick up The Forest of Vanishing Stars. However, if reading about the atrocities put upon the Jewish nation during the time of Hitler makes you queasy, I’d suggest finding a different path.
Whether some scenes in the First Fifty Pages of this book are fact or fiction, I’ll never know. But it did remind me of some elements from Disney’s Tangled, where a young girl is stolen away and taught nothing but how to survive in the wild. No, Yona doesn’t go around smashing bandits with a cast iron pan, and I may not agree with Jerusza’s reasoning, but there are nuggets of truth introduced in the First Fifty Pages that I’m sure will shape Yona’s decision making process later on in the book.