The Devils Arithmetic is Heartbreaking

Kelsey Leerhoff, Staff Writer

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The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen is one of the best books I have ever read. It’s a painfully sad book, and I recommend this short read to anyone looking for a tear-jerking story.

The Devil’s Arithmetic has been my favorite book sense 2013, and while I didn’t completely understand the book at that moment in time, I still felt that this story changed my perspective of life itself, even for a 5th grader.

The story starts off with the complaining Hannah Stern, a Jewish girl who does not appreciate the traditions of her faith, to say the least. She absolutely despises coming to Passover at her clinically insane grandfather’s house and wishes she were anywhere but there. Then, when she begrudgingly is forced to open the door to symbolize Elijah the prophet coming inside, she is thrown back in time to some dinky shed in a village in clothes that are not her own.

We later find out that she has been sent to the time of the Holocaust, and in a few days, she is sent to a concentration camp and forced to feel the pain and suffering her ancestors felt. This experience teaches an unappreciative, ignorant girl what the true meaning of her religion is, and she learns how important her own history is.

Just a couple days ago, I found out this book is supposed to be a children’s book. That just does not sit well with me. This book has scenes that are very disturbing, especially for a child, even if they are 4th graders. When I imagine a children’s book, I do not imagine the attempted systematic genocide of a whole race.

I also have another problem with this book. Looking past the idea of a book on the Holocaust being a book meant for kids, I also has a large issue with how the book portrays the Holocaust.

The Holocaust is a well known event that affected several million people (not  just jews), and it is one of, if not the most, terrible times in history. Most people know the basic facts, but can’t usually conceive the idea of so many people dying because of their ethnicity, race, religion, handicap, or sexuality.

The problem I have is that this book makes light of this tragic event. Yes, the characters go through terrible things and they obviously make concentration camps not a happy environment. but it’s not as bad as what the concentration camp occupants actually went through.

The book almost makes being in a concentration camps seem like an inconvenience rather than one of the worlds most heinous crimes. It’s almost disturbing how this book just glosses over one of the worst times in human history. In fact, it almost angers me in some way. This book ignores the biggest plot line in the story by choosing to practically look the other way.

I understand that this is ‘technically’ a children’s book. But why would you write a children’s book on the Holocaust in the first place. Children are too young to be exposed to such atrocities so the solution here is to just not write a book on the holocaust. This book should have been bumped up to adult level reading or should not have been written at all.

However, even with that in mind, this is still one of the best books ever written  and my personal favorite. I highly recommend reading this book but also doing some side research on the Holocaust. I think the reading experience is best when you know what’s going on in the book but also the real life facts.