Review: The Summer of Lost Letters

The Summer of Lost Letters

by Hannah Reynolds

Razorbill (imprint of Penguin Random House)

Category: Young Adult
Reviewer: Cheryl Fox Strausberg

When Abigail Schoenberg receives a package of her grandmother Ruth’s personal effects, the last thing she expected to find was a bundle of love letters. However, the stranger part is that these letters were not signed by her grandfather, but instead by someone named Edward, of whom Abby’s family knows nothing. Abby and her family only know that her grandmother immigrated to the United States at the age of four in 1939. So, who is this mysterious Edward? 
After reading through the letters and doing a bit of online research, Abby discovers that her grandmother was part of an American Kindertransport program. She was brought to the U.S. and essentially adopted by a wealthy Jewish family who summered on Nantucket Island. After discovering that Edward is still alive, Abby attempts and fails to arrange to speak with him, so she arranges a summer job on Nantucket hoping that proximity to the family will entice them to open up to her about her grandmother’s past. What follows is a tale of love, loss, and sacrifice, not only in the past but in Abby’s present as well.  

This book is a poignant discussion of the Jewish communal psyche. On one hand, you have young Ruth struggling with who she is and what her future holds as a Holocaust survivor: alone, essentially a charity case, but also as a woman in love with a man she to whom she could not marry. On the other hand, you have Abby, also struggling with who she is and what her future holds as a seventeen year old girl today worried about fitting in, planning for college, and first love. Both women struggle with the central theme of the book, “Who am I? Where do I come from?” of which there are no easy answers for the descendants of the Holocaust survivors.
I think this book should be considered for the Sydney Taylor Book Award. It is an engaging novel that explores what it means to be Jewish, not just today, but what it meant to be Jewish in the mid-20th century. It takes a look at the American response to the threat of Fascism during the late 1930s and the steps that American Jewry did and did not take to assist Jews fleeing Nazi Germany. It puts the Jewish experience at the center without taking such a heavy hand on history. It addresses the questions of how Jews, as a people, can move forward while not having a solid grasp on our personal histories and it also addresses how the legacy of the Holocaust will continue to be far-reaching into the future until historians have a better grasp on the documents and records that can help the Jewish people put their history back together again. 
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Reviewer Cheryl Fox Strausberg is the Upper School Library Media Specialist at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Maryland. An avid reader and traveler, she can be found posting her opinions about her favorite books at or on twitter at @cfslibrarian.