Review: The Blood Years

The Blood Years

by Elana K. Arnold

Balzer + Bray (imprint of HarperCollins), 2023

Category: Young Adult
Reviewer: Sarah Aronson

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The Blood Years is a riveting, unputdownable story of love, loss, and family, based on the true experiences of Elana K. Arnold's grandmother's struggle to survive the Holocaust in Romania. Frederieke (Rieke) Teitler and her older sister, Astra, live with their grandfather and mother in wartime Romania. As the Russians and Nazis take over the city and persecute Jewish residents, Rieke experiences loss, rape, hunger, and illness, all while maintaining her hope that the sine wave that is life will shift in their favor. The source of hope is her grandfather, Opa, whose faith and resourcefulness holds them together even as fickle and selfish Astra, falling in love with a dashing philandering doctor, tests the strength of the family's fabric.

Unlike in many books about the Holocaust, the family does not go to a concentration camp--but that doesn't mean they escape the impact of the Nazis. We see what happens when a city is changed by hate and polarization. We also see how people help each other in any way they can. The stakes couldn't be higher. Their suffering and courage to survive inspires. At the end, readers will exhale. They will be angry at our world. They will be grateful for this story. In spite of the violence depicted, there is hope.

This beautifully written book and its characters kept me on the edge of my seat. The representation is authentic. Arnold honors her grandmother's story by bravely giving us characters that do not always act in their best interests. Some readers may scorn Astra and their mother, but Opa inspires. He is a character that shows us the power of morality and faith in a time when both could have been excused. Rieke, in spite of everything she lives through, gives us hope for the future. The fortitude of this character and the choices she makes will incite conversations about our world right now.l I would love to see this novel paired with The Choice by Dr. Edith Eva Eger. The book includes excellent back matter and resources, as well as an author's note that should not be ignored. The Blood Years deserves every accolade it receives. Do not miss this book. Talk about it with your friends and family. This book should be on the shortlist for multiple awards. Best for older teens and adult readers.

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Reviewer Sarah Aronson's books include Beyond Lucky, Just like Rube Goldberg, The Wish List series, and Brand New Bubbe. In Fall 2024, look for her next book, ABZUGLUTELY: Battling Bellowing Bella Abzug (Calkins Creek). Are you a writer looking for support? Meet her at The Highlights Foundation or subscribe to her weekly newsletter on the writing process: