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*Black Radishes* by Susan Lynn Meyer- young readers fantasy book review
Black Radishes
by Susan Lynn Meyer
Grades 4-7 240 pages Delacorte November 2010 Hardcover    

Loosely based in the experiences of the author’s father, Black Radishes is a superb World War II novel written for older elementary and middle school students.

First time novelist Susan Lynn Meyer tells the story of eleven-year-old Gustave, a middle-class Jewish boy living in Paris, close friends with his cousin, Jean-Paul, and their neighbor, Marcel. Gustave is a typical middle-class boy: involved in scouting, playing with his friends, etc.

Like most of the others in his Jewish neighborhood, Gustave and his family watch as the world around them is taken over by the Nazis. Like many others, Gustave believes that France shall always remain free.

When the Nazis finally invade France, Gustave’s family moves south, just over the demarcation line to the largely Catholic village of Saint Georges. Here Gustave is lonely; his parents have asked him to keep his Jewish heritage a secret, but he still faces a local bully and questions from the community.

Times are very tough; food is scarce. Gustave’s father often crosses the border into occupied France to trade goods for food. As life becomes more difficult, it becomes critical that Gustave’s family secure their visa to immigrate to the United States, but his mother insists that they wait for her sister and Jean-Paul to come with them.

Eventually, Gustave makes friends with a girl in his class named Nicole. She and her father work for the French Resistance, helping people to escape Nazi territory and eventually reach freedom. Nicole takes him to see a castle which is built right on the border. Refugees come through the castle to freedom, avoiding the strict border guards. When Nicole breaks her collarbone, Gustave takes her place riding his bike to check the area to see if it is safe for the refugees to leave the castle.

Although the title may not initially engage a typical American reader, the cover with the boy on the bicycle traveling along a road to a castle will capture the attention of many. Meyer tells the story from Gustave’s point of view, accurately portraying the values of an eleven-year-old boy – his insecurities, fears, interests, and friendships. There are many unknowns in Gustave’s life; thus the story moves quickly, utilizing suspense, inspiration and courage to move the narrative forward and keep the reader’s attention.

Meyer captures the spirit of the common people of France, who wanted victory, and others, who sided with the Nazis, blaming the Jews for their hardships. Most the characters are well-developed, very few presented as wholly good or evil. The black radishes themselves become an integral part of the story, as they are highly desired by the guards at the borderline. Black Radishes is an excellent addition to the popular war/historical fiction genre.
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