I originally received this galley as an ARC in early September, but then my TBR got a little out of control and we all know what happens from there. However, when I finally opened the pages I instantly knew I was pulling an all-nighter. Poignant and authentic, My Real Name Is Hanna is undeniably powerful and the absolute perfect blend of YA and WWII fiction.
Title: My Real Name is Hanna
Author: Tara Lynn Masih
Publisher: Mandel Vilar Press
Publication Date: September 15, 2018
Genre: Fiction, YA, Historical Fiction
Themes: Family, Friendship, Survival, WWII, Holocaust
My Rating: 4.5/ 5
Inspired by real Holocaust events, this poignant debut novel is a powerful coming-of-age story that will resonate with fans of The Book Thief and Between Shades of Gray.
Hanna Slivka is on the cusp of fourteen when Hitler’s army crosses the border into Soviet-occupied Ukraine. Soon, the Gestapo closes in, determined to make the shtetele she lives in “free of Jews.” Until the German occupation, Hanna spent her time exploring Kwasova with her younger siblings, admiring the drawings of the handsome Leon Stadnick, and helping her neighbor dye decorative pysanky eggs. But now she, Leon, and their families are forced to flee and hide in the forest outside their shtetele—and then in the dark caves beneath the rolling meadows, rumored to harbor evil spirits. Underground, they battle sickness and starvation, while the hunt continues above. When Hanna’s father disappears, suddenly it’s up to Hanna to find him—and to find a way to keep the rest of her family, and friends, alive.
Sparse, resonant, and lyrical, weaving in tales of Jewish and Ukrainian folklore, My Real Name Is Hanna celebrates the sustaining bonds of family, the beauty of a helping hand, and the tenacity of the human spirit.
When it comes to WWII history I have some rather limited knowledge when it comes to the actions carried out in the Ukraine. So, I was instantly drawn by the blurb when it mentioned families and communities surviving in cave systems for extended periods of times. This just took the idea of ‘going underground’ to a whole new level – literally and figuratively and I couldn’t stay away.
I really appreciated the amount of text that was dedicated to establishing the setting and context. Everything from the town before the onset of war, the parade of leaders and dictators, the fluidity of ‘official’ religion, the slow descent into rampant antisemitism, and finally to the circumstances that drove the Slikva’s from their home and into the woods had relevancy. While it meant that less time was given to the time when Hanna was in the woods and caves, it really highlighted the ways in which these communities experienced gradual shifts, how this descent into depravity was a process, and how conflicted both sides of the issues were when it came to both the costs of survival and the shift in attitudes towards former friends and neighbours.
Hanna was an instantly likeable protagonist. The love she shared for her family was practically contagious, and her passion for life (and books) was a force to be reckoned with. In seeing the story through her eyes we were able to share in her experiences, grow alongside her, grieve her losses, and feel the same helplessness as innocence youth slip uncontrollably away. As an adult reader I was drawn to how Hanna’s eyes were opened to the cruel realities of a world at war, and can only hope that younger readers can relate to her awakening in the same way.
The presence of Hanna’s family, her friends, and her neighbours made the horrors endured seem more bearable. Kindness was injected at the moments where it was most needed, logic and compassion when hatred threatened to overtake, and love was always abundant even when food wasn’t. Their perseverance showed that while fighting for survival for absolutely worth it, but that integrity and family were always worth more.
The writing itself was phenomenal. Word choices were approachable yet never repetitive, the pacing was quick but never fast that key moments were rushed, and Masih struck a beautiful balance between explanation and exposition. And while gore and murder was often alluded to it was never overdone, moments of drama were heightened and plentiful, and just enough culture was injected into the narrative to give a sense of community and belonging without ever feeling like a lesson.
Would I recommend this book? To adults and teen readers alike! It features hope in the darkest of times, the tenacity of youth, and the lengths that we can go through for our family. Get your tissues and hug your pillows… and don’t read this one in public places if you’re prone to the ugly cry.
Many thanks to NetGalley for providing a Advanced Reader Copy in exchange for an honest review.