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The Borrowed House Review by Jennifer Ladewig

Hilda Van Stockum
Purple House Inc.
PO Box 787
Cynthiana, KY 41031

The Borrowed House, by Hilda Van Stockum, from Purple House Press is a historical fiction book set during WWII that tells the story about a young German girl named, Janna who has been indoctrinated into Hitler’s Youth. This paperback book is 208 pages in length. The retail price of the book is $13.95.

The Borrowed House would be good for home, school, and the library setting. The recommended age for this book is 10-14 years of age. I read this book myself and I had my 10 and 12-year-old children read this book and at times questioned if I even wanted my 10-year-old to read it. The subject matter surrounding WWII, Hitler, concentration camps, and the violence against the Jews is a lot for a child to take in. I opted to read this book aloud to my 10-year-old so that we could discuss the sensitive subject matter as it came to light.

So, a bit more about the book. Janna is very proud of playing her part in the war and supporting Hitler. Janna has been separated from her parents for many years. Her parents are well known in the theater in Amsterdam. Janna’s parents send for her and she leaves the only home she knows. On her journey from Germany to Amsterdam she begins to see things that begin to disturb her, but she doesn’t quite know what to make of them. One the train ride to Amsterdam they pass rows and rows of cattle cars filled with humans. Janna is stunned and confused. Her traveling companion simply closes the train window blinds and tells Janna it is nothing. Back home she has been taught that Aryans are the pure, master race. Jews are evil, inferior, and dangerous. Janna has no idea that she has been indoctrinated to believe things that are totally untrue.

Upon arriving in Amsterdam, she soon finds out that the home her parents live in is a borrowed home. It belongs to a family, the van Arkels. Janna begins to see more and more things that greatly disturb her like a Jewish woman and her baby walking down the street in rags and thin as skeletons. SS soldiers beat the woman and her baby. Janna and her mother approach a Jewish compound and hear screaming, followed by gunshots, then silence. Janna begins to ask questions of her tutor, Hugo, who her parents have hired to educate her. He at first is resistant to talk about the Jews. Janna is unrelenting and demands to know the truth. It is during this time with Hugo that she realizes that she had been fed propaganda and untruths back home. Janna begins to research the truth about the Jews and what the history books really have to say. Living in the borrowed house is another family who have a son named, Heinz. Heinz is a difficult, obstinate child. One day Janna and Heinz are playing hide and seek when Janna enters her wardrobe in her room and falls into an empty space through a trap door in the back of the wardrobe. She discovers a boy that has been living there. What is he doing there? Who is he? How does this change Janna’s perspective on the war? What will happen next?

I really enjoyed reading The Borrowed House. The book is very well written. I think it gives the younger reader a great look into what it was like to live during WWII through the eyes of someone around their own age. In the book Janna is just turning 12-years-old so very relatable to young readers. Over the past year my 12-year-old has been reading a handful of books, mainly historical fiction, about WWII. When I got this book, she was excited to read it. She said, “I read this book in two days. I couldn’t put it down. I felt so bad for Janna. First, not having her parents. Then realizing that what she believed to be true was not true. She faced so many struggles. Being her same age, I cannot imagine going through what she went through. She was so strong. So much evil took place during WWII. There was so much sadness in the book.”

I would most definitely recommend this book to be added to your student’s book list while studying WWII.

-Product review by Jennifer Ladewig, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, September, 2018