Saturday, December 1, 2012

Once by Morris Gleitzman - Review

Once by Morris Gleitzman
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Release Date: March 30, 2010
Source: Library Book
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Felix, a Jewish boy in Poland in 1942, is hiding from the Nazis in a Catholic orphanage. The only problem is that he doesn't know anything about the war, and thinks he's only in the orphanage while his parents travel and try to salvage their bookselling business. And when he thinks his parents are in danger, Felix sets off to warn them--straight into the heart of Nazi-occupied Poland. To Felix, everything is a story: Why did he get a whole carrot in his soup? It must be sign that his parents are coming to get him. Why are the Nazis burning books? They must be foreign librarians sent to clean out the orphanage's outdated library. But as Felix's journey gets increasingly dangerous, he begins to see horrors that not even stories can explain. Despite his grim suroundings, Felix never loses hope. Morris Gleitzman takes a painful subject and expertly turns it into a story filled with love, friendship, and even humor."

"I got you the boots because everybody deserves to have something good in their life at least once."

This book is both very harsh and real, and the reader receives it straightforwardly and without misconceptions. It touches a subject that almost all of us are familiar with or know about, but it sheds a new light more specifically on the thoughts and grievances of the children during the time. I wouldn't say the story is unique or very "special", but it is absolute.

Our main character, Felix, has one very severe weakness, and it is this weakness that causes him to make mistakes about what is happening around him and to his parents. Felix is extremely apt to making assumptions. And these aren't even educational guesses, these are full-on ignorant, naive explanations for the horrors occurring to him and his family. He is so familiar with storytelling that he treats life as one big story and makes up and imagines the things that happen as if it was his own story. Felix puts up walls around him and accepts only what he tells himself. He believes what he wants to believe, which adds a very immature, childish quality to him (we do not know how old Felix is).

Something I thought to be peculiar was how the chapters began. Each chapter began with the word "Once", followed with the usage of past tense in the first paragraph, then switching to present tense. It gave the feeling that Felix was telling us his story from the past and that he turns out to be okay.

I did not like the ending. It was very abrupt and there was no final tie. There was so much build-up and suspense and curiosity about what was going to happen, and then it ends. It had me thinking, "That's it??". Luckily, this is part of a series and I will be looking forward to reading the sequel, "Then".

One more thing...

What I thought was interesting was the friendly Nazi soldier. Why was he so warm towards Felix? Did he know that Felix was Jewish? Did he care? How could someone who could do so much damage to so many people become so acceptable towards a boy who tells funny stories?


Once is an exhilarating and very short read. It reflects on the Holocaust and the traumatizing experiences that the adults and especially children had to go through. We might not ever experience what these people did, or even half as much the horror they went through either. All we can do is hope that it never happens to us. We have to tell ourselves that it'll all be okay and maybe, hopefully, it will.

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