Review: Summer of Stolen Secrets

Summer of Stolen Secrets

by Julie Sternberg

Viking (imprint of Penguin Random House)

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Rachel J. Fremmer

From its opening pages with protagonist Catarina’s distinct voice to its poignant ending, Summer of Stolen Secrets is a unique and age-appropriate take on how the trauma of the Holocaust and survivors’ guilt can reverberate for generations. When New Yorker Catarina visits her cousin Lexie in Louisiana, she meets her paternal grandmother for the first time. Catarina knows only that Safta disowned her son, Catarina’s father, when he married her mom, a non-Jew. As she probes into Safta’s past, she finds out that there is much more than spitefulness or provincialism behind this family rift. Based on - and dedicated to - the author’s own grandmother, and based on her family’s Baton Rouge department store, Summer of Stolen Secrets brings the Jewish South to life. Sternberg addresses sensitive and weighty issues, but at the same time understands the preoccupations of middle-schoolers everywhere - drama with friends, first romances, clothing, pushing boundaries, relationships with parents and grandparents, and, ultimately, identity. 
Summer of Stolen Secrets meets and exceeds the criteria of the Sydney Taylor Book Award, illuminating a lesser-known Jewish community and addressing important and historical issues in the context of an accessible and appealing family story.
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Reviewer Rachel J. Fremmer is a lawyer-turned-unemployed elementary-school librarian. She is a native New Yorker and lives there with her husband and two daughters, ages 16 and 13, who are rapidly outgrowing her area of book expertise. She loves baking and doing crossword puzzles.