(This is edited from the review that originally was written for my old Angelfire site around 2004-05.)
Ida Vos’s second novel picks up where Hide and Seek left off, with a different cast of characters. The War has just ended, and 13-year-old Anna is reunited with her parents. She was in hiding, but doesn’t know where her parents were. Whenever she asks, they say they’re not able to tell her yet, but will eventually. They’re also not allowed to talk about or to display pictures of their murdered friends and relatives. She knows enough to know her best friend and some of her best cousins were slain, but still has a lot of questions, which her parents are psychologically unable to provide just yet.
She has her own hangups too; early on, her father tries to get her to learn how to use a loud voice, after years of speaking very rarely and quietly. And despite her parents’ refusal to speak about what happened to them, there’s a moving scene towards the end, when her father takes her to buy books, including his favourite book from childhood, Alone in the World. He knows how she might very well have been an einer allen herself.
Anna’s father Simon causes a scene in the bookstore, chasing after a man who sold Nazi trash newspapers, which in turn sets off the bookseller, who makes disparaging anti-Semitic comments. They’re taken to the police station, and the bookseller is written up. In anger, he throws the book at them, and the police officer says he’ll pay for it. The local police chief signs it “For Anna Markus, the girl who fortunately is not alone in the world.”
Anna’s parents hate the Germans, and are furious when they discover she’s been palling around with and often going to the house of an older German woman, Frau Neumann. They follow her one day to confront her, but all is made right when it comes out that Frau Neumann is Jewish and not one of the bad Germans. Anna’s parents want to know why she didn’t tell them this sooner, nor that Frau Neumann lost her husband Max and daughter Fannie and is still trying to find them.
Frau Neumann wears the same dress every day, the dress she wore when Fannie last saw her, so Fannie will recognise her. They were hiding separately, but one St. Nicholas’s Eve, she and Max went to see Fannie. Max was Sinterklaas, and Frau Neumann was Zwarte Piet (Black Peter), his assistant. They didn’t want to be separated again, so they began hiding together. Later on, the Nazis stormed the place and took Max away, but he pushed Fannie onto the back veranda where the Nazis couldn’t find her. Frau Neumann was spared because she was getting treated for a toothache.
Despite being thirteen, Anna is in fifth grade, because of the three years of school she missed. Everyone asks her about what it was like being in hiding, and there are the unanswered questions she might be able to answer, if only her parents would break down and talk to her about what really happened. She also has to deal with anti-Semitism, mostly from a nasty classmate named Otto. Otto’s dad was in the treacherous NSB (Dutch Nazi Party).
Will Frau Neumann ever find out what happened to Fannie, and will Anna’s parents ever break down and start talking? Most of all, will Anna ever feel normal again?