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Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli.

Tamir Eisenbach Budner

Age: 13; Portland, OR

When I found this novel four years ago in the young adult section of the library, I was excited to find a book about something I was familiar with. It turns out I was way over-estimating myself. Forty pages in, I was mortified by the cruelty and violence. Milkweed, by Jerry Spinelli, became the first book I ever quit. Last month, I wanted to challenge myself to give it another chance. I picked it up again to finish where I left off. Immediately (for the second time), Misha's life became a part of mine.

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A small boy dodges someone's outstretched hand and runs from the shouts the bakery, a loaf of bread cradled in his arms. This is the rough life of a boy without a name, or one long lost. He knows himself as Stopthief, and that's what I knew him as for the first few pages.

One day, Stopthief is taken in by a large, red-haired boy named Uri, who soon becomes a major part of his life, for good and for bad. Uri is very wise and holds all of his young friend's trust. He teaches Stopthief about the real world: how to survive, how to thrive. That is, until the days when Uri starts disappearing.

When Misha (Uri takes the liberty of naming him) meets spunky, six-year-old Janina for the first time, he is in the middle of stealing some ripe tomatoes. After a lecture from the young girl, they begin talking. Throughout the book they develop a strong bond, like brother and sister.

However, this is not just a book about a friendship between a boy and a girl. Milkweed is a book about a lot of things, but its based in the violent time of the Holocaust.

Bombs. Tanks. Glass, broken. Jackboots. Guns. Violence is breaking out everywhere. When the Jews are shepherded into the ghettos with nothing but their clothes, Misha's innocence and curiosity lure him in. There, he stumbles into Janina's family, who take him under their wing. Life is tough in the ghetto, and after a few months the children on the street have nothing left but rags and dead eyes. Barely a difference between the living and dead, except for the faint pounding in the chest.

Smuggling is dangerous, and many smugglers are hanging from ropes tied to street signs, but food is food. Through a two-brick gap in the wall, a small boy and a smaller girl disappear every night in search of food to feed their family, now brother and sister.

I love the writing in this book. I have always liked great run-on sentences, and Jerry Spinelli uses them so amazingly, almost like poetry. The writing in Milkweed has a very elegant feeling but also conveys a sense of simplicity. As the book went on I found I looked out for Misha more and more, like a little brother. I wish I could have warned him.

One morning, when Misha comes back through the hole, he finds a group of people in the street yelling. One man is louder than the others. He tries to convince people the trains bring you to ovens, not resettlement, but no one seems to listen. 'That night, as Misha prepares for a long night on the other side of the wall (in "heaven"), he is told by Mr. Milgrom to flee, to take Janina and never come back.

The trains. Janina's downfall, luring her closer. Abrubdy, the end.

There are so many books about the horrors of the Holocaust that I didn't think any more could be said, but while reading Milkweed I realized when you focus on one person's life, when you get to know him well, it slaps you in the face way harder than if you just hear numbers or names. I really got to identify with the characters, making this one of the only books I have read that was powerful enough to make my eyes water at the end.

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Publication:Moment
Date:May 1, 2013
Words:713
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