If your best friend were in terrible danger, and you weren't, what would you do? Would you stand by your friend and experience the threat together, or would you ditch your friend and save your own skin? That's the question that Annemarie, the main character in Number the Stars, has to answer—and it's the most important question of her life.
Number the Stars is set in Denmark during World War II, when the country was full of Nazi soldiers and the Danish people had lost many of their freedoms. Like Marcus Zusak's The Book Thief, this story is told from an unusual viewpoint: the main character isn't Jewish. (Although this book was published sixteen years before The Book Thief. We're just sayin'.) It gives us the story through a different lens than we're used to, which makes it all the more worthwhile.
Written by Lois Lowry, this now classic young adult novel won the John Newbery Medal in 1990, one year after its publication. When the book first came out, Lowry was already established as the well-loved author of children's books like the Anastasia Krupnik series. (And later, she'd get major props for her amazing YA book, The Giver.) But with Number the Stars, our author took a turn for the serious. This is a book about saving lives and doing what's right, no matter the (terrible) costs.
The Newbery Medal isn't the only trophy on this book's shelf. Actually, it has won a whole bunch of awards given to awesome books for young adults. But it doesn't end there. Number the Stars also received the National Jewish Book Award, which means that people who honor Jewish history and culture thought the book was important and valuable, and not just for young adults.
Some people have thrown Lowry under the bus for not addressing the more gruesome aspects of the Holocaust head on. So when she gave a speech accepting the Newbery Award, she explained, "As a writer, I find that I can only cover the small and the ordinary—the mittens on a shivering child—and hope that they evoke the larger events. The huge and horrible are beyond my powers" (source). But you know what's not beyond her powers? Thoughts on friendship, family, and morals. Those are some pretty big topics to tackle, but Lowry does her best. Now, you tell us: does Number the Stars live up to the challenge?
The Holocaust. That's reason enough to care, don't you think?
You can take a look at our "Why Should I Care?" on The Diary of Anne Frank for all the heavy stuff involved in reading a book about a young person living through the Holocaust. Keep these reasons-to-care in the front of your mind while you're reading, because they are majorly important in Number the Stars.
But what's unique about Lois Lowry's take on YA Holocaust lit? Well, the protagonist here isn't Jewish. If you've read The Book Thief, you might be thinking "so what?" We'll tell you what. Number the Stars came first. Way first.
Jews and other persecuted people were the true victims of the Holocaust, there's no question about that. But what about the people behind the scenes who were putting their own lives at risk to save the people they cared about? Reading about people like this—Peter, Annemarie, Henrik, the Johansens—allows us to see these non-Jews in starring roles rather than as minor characters. Much Holocaust lit focuses on the Jews, and rightfully so, but Lowry gives us a unique glimpse into other perspectives on the Nazi occupation.
Of course, this perspective lays one majorly tough nugget on the table for us: what would you do if you were in a safe position but someone you loved was not? Would you risk your life to help them?