Study Guide

Number the Stars Lies and Deceit

By Lois Lowry

Lies and Deceit

He prodded the corner of her backpack with the stock of his rifle. Annemarie trembled. "What is in here?" he asked loudly. From the corner of her eye, she saw the shopkeeper move quietly back into the shadows of the doorway, out of sight.

"Schoolbooks," she answered truthfully. (1.18-19)

Whew. Nothing to lie about here. Then why is she still so afraid? Goes to show you: the truth may not be your ticket out when it comes to the Nazis.

"Is it true, Papa?" she asked. "What the boy said?"

Papa thought for a moment. He always considered questions very carefully before he answered them. "Yes," he said at last. "It is true. Any Danish citizen would die for King Christian, to protect him." (2.22-23)

Annemarie has grown up in a house where truth gets top billing. This is probably why it's so hard for her to tell a lie later on—even when her life depends on it.

It was all imaginary, anyway—not real. It was only in the fairy tales that people were called upon to be so brave, to die for one another. Not in real-life Denmark. Oh, there were the soldiers; that was true. And the courageous Resistance leaders, who sometimes lost their lives; that was true, too. (3.59)

Have you ever tried to convince yourself that something wasn't true? Spoiler alert: that usually doesn't help. But you know what? It can be comforting, and we're totally okay with that.

She realized too, with an icy feeling, why Papa had torn them [the baby pictures] from the book. At the bottom of each page, below the photograph itself, was written the date. And the real Lise Johansen had been born twenty-one years earlier. (5.69)

Quick thinking, Dad. Annemarie's father knows that he has to lie to save his family's life. As far as ethical dilemmas go, this one isn't too tough.

"If only I go with the girls, it will be safer. They are unlikely to suspect a woman and her children. But if they are watching us—if they see all of us leave? If they are aware that the apartment is empty, that you don't go to your office this morning? Then they will know. Then it will be dangerous. I am not afraid to go alone." (6.16)

Normally, we'd consider this kind of elaborate scheming to be a little sketchy or at least worthy of a heist movie. But in this case, we're totally on their side. Number the Stars really has a way of making us look at things from a new angle.

"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)

Wait a second. Mama has never lied to her before? We learn later that this is very far from the truth. But because we get everything through the lens of Annemarie, we think this is Mama's first transgression, too.

"You guessed correctly," he told her. "There is no Great-aunt Birte, and never has been. Your mama lied to you, and so did I.

"We did so," he explained, "to help you to be brave, because we love you. Will you forgive us for that?" (9.21-22)

It's not like Henrik and Mama lied about where they stored the chocolate. So where do you draw the line on forgiving someone for lying? Would you forgive someone you loved if they lied to you for a good reason? Or do you think that lying is lying and there's never really a good reason for it?

"Annemarie, you understand how dangerous this is. If any soldiers see you, if they stop you, you must pretend to be nothing more than a little girl. A silly, empty-headed little girl, taking lunch to a fisherman, a foolish uncle who forgot his bread and cheese." (13.32)

Annemarie has no clue what's in the package she's carrying. And you know what? That gets her off the hook—she can't lie, because she really doesn't know what she's holding. (This is kind of what Henrik was saying before, right? That sometimes it's safer not to know the truth?)

Annemarie wiped her eyes on the sleeve of her sweater. "It wasn't hidden, any more than the napkin was. I don't know what it is." That, she realized, was true. She had no idea what was in the packet. (15.39)

But then again, not knowing is still just as scary (and tear-inducing). Man, we keep going back and forth on this one! What's your final verdict? Is it better to know the truth or not in this kind of serious situation?

"Not twenty minutes after you had gone [the soldiers came]. I was about to pull away from the dock when the soldiers appeared and ordered me to halt. They came aboard, searched, found nothing. By then, of course, I had the handkerchief. If I had not, well—" His voice trailed off, and he didn't finish the sentence. He didn't need to. (16.45)

Lying saves lives. (Don't quote us on that.)