Genre: Young Adult Literature
This is an interesting young adult literature piece by Robert Cormier. It has the appearance of classic literature, and the tone fits as well, but despite that, it is a young adult novel. Very short, only 101 pages, it is a quick read with a lot of underlying elements regarding prejudice and what it means to be a respectful person.
Henry is only eleven years old. When his family moves from their hometown to another town to leave behind the death of Henry’s brother–who was hit by a car, the driver never identified–Henry and his family must learn to cope with the loss. To help his family, Henry gets a job at a grocery store under Mr. Hairston. When Henry’s father is hospitalized by grief, Henry needs to work even harder to support his family, and to possibly get a beautiful grave marker for his brother.
Since moving to his new town, every morning and every evening Henry would see an elderly man walking to and from a special art center. One day, Henry follows him and peeks in only to find that this elderly man, Mr. Levine, has been doing beautiful, intricate wood carvings of his home village and its people. Mr. Levine speaks a different language, but one of the supervisor’s of the center speaks Yiddish as well. This man explains that Mr. Levine is recreating his village that was destroyed and turned into a concentration camp during the Holocaust.
When Mr. Hairston learns of the time and effort it takes for Mr. Levine to make these things, he asks Henry to destroy the wooden village in exchange for a beautiful grave marker, keeping his job, and allowing his mother to keep his job. Mt. Hairston has many hookups in town, and he is blackmailing Henry to do this dreadful deed, but for what purpose?
“Why do you hate him so much?”
“He’s a Jew.” (93).
This novel brings to light the kinds of things that make us human, and the kinds of things that transform us into monsters, but even monsters should be forgiven.
This is a very insightful novel for a young reader that introduces things like the Holocaust, racism, and greed, ideas that an eleven-year-old may just be learning about or experiencing in the world. As an educator, if this book were permitted (I don’t know if it is teachable in public schools or not), I would teach it to a seventh or eighth grade English class, which is usually a good age to bring up the kinds of concepts presented in this novel.