Book Review: The Other Half of Life

The Other Half of Life
Kim Ablon Whitney
Historical
Grades 7-10
256 pages

The Other Half of LifeThe Other Half of Life is based on the true story of a ship-full of Jewish refugees escaping Germany in 1939, just before the outbreak of World War II.  The central character, fifteen-year-old Thomas, is the son of a Jewish man and a non-Jewish woman who were part of a resistance group in Berlin.  When his father is taken to the Dachau concentration camp, Thomas’s mother gets him passage on the MS St. Francis bound for Cuba so he can live with his older half-brother, Walter, in safety.

Most of the book takes place onboard the ship.  Thomas makes friends with the Affedlt family, including their oldest daughter, Priska, who is a year younger than him.  Together they play shuffleboard with other children and play tricks on some of the adult passengers.  Priska enjoys traveling aboard the luxurious ship, but Thomas can’t forget the rumors he hears among the crew: other, faster ships are heading for Cuba and might fill the immigration quotas before they can dock.

The story has a bittersweet ending that shows the many tragedies Europe faced in this era.  Not to give anything away, but all does not work out as planned for those on the ship.  Still, I had great respect for Kim Ablon Whitney for being able to create action and suspense in such a confined setting.  I had my doubts at first, but as I continued reading, I was more and more drawn into life aboard this ship, as well as the individual struggles of the characters.  The large cast of passengers showed many different situations and opinions on the pending war and the more immediate concern of escaping Germany permanently.

Whitney also used chess throughout the book, both to show conflict in other areas and as part of the action.  It is through the chess games that we see the most growth from Thomas, from accepting what happened to his father to learning to put his father’s lessons into practice to learning to accept others.  Even though I couldn’t always follow the detailed move descriptions, I could understand what was going on beneath the surface of the game and it made a great layer for the story.

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One Response to Book Review: The Other Half of Life

  1. Tricia says:

    Sounds interesting. You should get Mike to read it to tell you what he thinks of the chess moves.

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