Study Guide

Annemarie Johansen in Number the Stars

By Lois Lowry

Annemarie Johansen

Annemarie is just an "ordinary" (4.60) young girl.

Or so she thinks.

We at Shmoop are pretty sure Annemarie isn't ordinary by any stretch of the imagination. This is a ten-year-old girl who lives through a World War, courageously saving lives. And she's humble to boot!

Just an Ordinary Girl

Let's start with all the things about Annemarie that she probably considers ordinary. Ready? Okay. She has a BFF (Ellen) and an annoying little sister (Kirsti). She likes to run and loves to play pretend games, like acting out versions of Gone With the Wind with paper dolls. And, um… that's the end of our list. Moving on.

Wise and Brave Beyond Her Years

It's almost tough to remember that Annemarie is only ten. She has already learned one of the toughest lessons in life: you can't always get what you want. For example, if there's no sugar, you simply can't have cupcakes (something that spunky little Kirsti refuses to accept). Annemarie is mature enough to understand the hardships and restrictions that go along with war; she accepts them and tries to make the best of them. You tell us: are you braver than a 5th grader? We're not sure we are.

Speaking of bravery… holy moly. It's not just that Annemarie is brave—it's that she's brave against her wishes. This isn't some young kid looking to become a superhero. In fact, it's the complete opposite:

Annemarie admitted to herself, snuggling there in the quiet dark, that she was glad to be an ordinary person who would never be called upon for courage. (4.60)

But you know what? Even though this is the last thing she wants to do, she handles herself with absolute grace when she's put into a dicey situation. After all, Annemarie is ready to give up her life to protect her friend—and to protect people she doesn't even know:

"Well," Annemarie said slowly, "now I think that all of Denmark must be bodyguard for the Jews, as well." (4.53)

This is like Gandhi-style selflessness. Or, say, Resistance-style selflessness. She may not want to be part of the fight, but she'll do it without batting an eyelash.

Honesty is the Best Policy… Usually

Annemarie is a stand-up girl, that's for sure. And one thing that comes with being a stand-up girl is telling the truth. So how does she react when faced with lies?

"Mama has never lied to me before. Never. But I know there is no Great-aunt Birte. Never once, in all the stories I've heard, in all the old pictures I've seen, has there been a Great-aunt Birte." (9.8)

Well, to be blunt, she feels totally betrayed. And we can sympathize. Poor Annemarie has been dealing with a pretty scary situation, and now she finds out that even her family—with whom she feels completely safe—hasn't been truthful with her. That's a little unsettling, don't you think?

When she confronts her uncle, he says, "We did [lie] to help you to be brave, because we love you. Will you forgive us for that?" (9.21-22). Of course she will. Annemarie definitely knows what it means to help people. After all, she has been trying to protect Ellen for the entirety of the story. Now she knows that her family is just trying to protect her, too. That's pretty impressive reasoning for a ten-year-old.

Oh, did we mention that Annemarie is insanely mature? Yes? Okay, good.

Aww, Best Friends

Annemarie and Ellen are two peas in a pod; we can't talk about one without the other. This is usually how it goes with BFFs, but things are even more extreme for these two girls. Without Ellen in her life, Annemarie wouldn't have had the occasion to be a wartime hero, which becomes a life-changing experience for her.

In this young friendship, Annemarie is definitely the protector, which is only fitting, given her relationship with her little sister, Kirsti. Annemarie constantly shields Ellen in whatever ways she can, whether it's trying to speak up for her in front of a soldier, removing Ellen's Star of David necklace when she's in danger, or welcoming her into the family like a sister.

In fact, Annemarie even goes against her morals to protect her friend. By not telling Ellen about the fakeness of Great-aunt Birte, Annemarie realizes she's taking care of her friend the same way Henrik and Mrs. Johansen have taken care of her:

She understood that she was protecting Ellen the way her mother had protected her. Although she didn't understand what was happening, or why the casket was there […] she knew it was better, safer, for Ellen to believe in Great-aunt Birte. So she said nothing. (9.32)

This is a classic case of putting others before yourself. Annemarie does it with dignity and humility. And because of it, we think that she and Ellen will be friends for a long, long time.