Review: Just a Girl

Just a Girl: A True Story of World War II

by Lia Levi, translated by Sylvia Notini, illustrated by Jess Mason

HarperCollins, 2022

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Rinat Hadad Siegel

Buy at Bookshop.org

Just a Girl was first published in 1994 as a memoir for adults, written in Italian. It won the Elsa Morante First Novel Prize and was Lia Levi's debut novel. In its new adaptation for young readers the memoire is a remarkable read for children ages 8-12.

The story is based on Lia's personal experience during World War II, and is told from the point of view of a child. Lia is a shy young girl living in Turin, Italy, when the world starts changing rapidly around her, but not in a good way. Lia’s voice throughout the story is innocent yet striking, simple yet captivating. Lia is asking the right questions, at the right time, about war, hate, discrimination and loyalty.

The reader experiences the uprooting of Lia’s world while she learns to adapt to new homes, new schools, new restrictions, and new friends. Lia realizes that nothing is set in stone. She learns resilience and finds her voice and courage to carry on. Lia and her family survive the war mainly by hiding in a convent boarding school.

The book carries many underlying themes as the reader shifts between friendships and loss, kindness and horror. Just A Girl is a gentle yet powerful book that can help children express and raise questions about difficult topics that are often hard to express.

This book is suitable for introducing children to World War II and the Holocaust in a gentle, age-appropriate way. The story is so vivid because of Lia’s ability to look at war from the point of view of a child, reminiscent of the The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

I very much enjoyed the physicality of this book, which can be held comfortably by an eight year old. The letter size is large and there is just the right amount of blank space on the page, which can be appealing to students who might require an easier reading experience. The black and white illustrations help connect the readers to the characters, and the addition of the personal photos at the end of the book showing Lia and her family pre and post-war add depth.

There are author’s notes throughout the book, mostly in the second half, explaining Lia’s reasoning for her family’s actions and some background matter for the important events happening at that time.
This book is a treasure to Jewish literature and I hope it will be added to many school curriculums and libraries.

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Reviewer Rinat Hadad Siegel is a former educator and resource teacher both in Israel and Los Angeles. Rinat received her Bachelor's Degree in Biology from the Ben Gurion University of the Negev and holds a Master's Degree in Education from the American Jewish University in Los Angeles. Rinat is a pre-published author who explores the stories of communities from the Middle East and North Africa to whom she is a descendant. Rinat is an enthusiastic photographer and cook. You can find some of her photos on Instagram at @rinathadadsiegel.

Comments

  1. I recently finished WHITE BIRD, by R.J. Palacio. It is a fictional account of a French Jewish girl hiding from the Nazis in France. The story was poignant and powerful. I know that JUST A GIRL will be as well. I will request this at my local library! Thank you for a wonderful review, Rinat!

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