Number the Stars

Number the Stars

I am amazed that it took me so long to read Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry. I read The Giver long ago and was blown away by the book. I've since recommended The Giver to many students. I remember one student returning the book to me in anger, frustrated by the ambiguous ending. She was upset I had given her a story without a clear happy ending, but I don't regret broadening those horizons. Dystopian books show the consequences of blindly following the status quo, and challenging it comes with both rewards and risks.

While Number the Stars is historical fiction, rather than dystopian, it shares some similarities with the latter genre. Set in Nazi occupied Denmark, the totalitarian regime has impacted every facet of life. Food is limited, their own government has been overturned, people are afraid, and it only gets worse as Jewish citizens are increasingly targeted by the Nazis.

However, Number the Stars differs drastically from The Giver since it is a story of hope. The Giver focuses on just one character's defiance, and in the end we wonder about his fate (sequels notwithstanding). Hope is there, but it is a frustratingly fragile thing.

On the other hand, Number the Stars shows how taking action can make a difference. In the book, ten year old Annemarie Johansen and her family shelter her Jewish friend from the Nazis and, with the Danish Resistance, they endeavour to smuggle her across the sea to Sweden. Although her story is fictional, it mirrors real life events when the people of Denmark saved thousands of Jewish Danes by smuggling them to safety. Throughout the story, there is hope. They hope to save the lives of their friends and neighbours. They hope to take a stand against oppression. They hope in protecting others they can protect the values of their homeland, so when the war ends they will still have a country worth calling home.

In Number the Stars, hope binds people together. It makes people face dangers and take risks that are daunting. These risks are not without heavy consequences, but the characters never falter. The world they want, a world of peace and respect, is out of their reach as the events of the war drag on. However, they don't give up and instead do what they can to help those around them. The book teaches us that even small acts of bravery can have real consequences and can make a real difference, an important lesson for everyone to keep in mind.