It is 1936, Vienna. Max and Elsa are celebrating with Leo. It’s his ninth birthday. When asked what he wants to do, Leo picks riding Vienna’s Ferris wheel, the Riesenrad. His father, a professional photographer, captures the image of the smiling best friends. But this sweet photo freezes in time the last true happy day for the friends. The end of innocence is around the corner.
Max’s father, who hates that his son’s best friends are Jewish, has become an SS officer. With the rise of Hitler, Leo can no longer attend school, Elsa’s family leaves for Czechoslovakia believing life in Prague would be safer than Austria and Max’s family moves to Munich as his father becomes a star within the Nazi ranks. The friends are separated and soon the horrors of the war becomes their new reality. Leo and Elsa and their families’ main goal is to simply survive and Max is an enthusiastic participant within the Hitler Youth. Through it all, each has a special place in their heart for that one perfect day back at the Ferris wheel.
When the World Was Ours is written for a younger audience so I was initially hesitant in reading it, fearing it would be too sanitized and simplistic. But that was not the case. The story is heartbreaking and doesn’t hold back. Seeing the war years through the eyes of the three friends as death is all around them, makes for a very powerful read. Inspired by author Liz Kessler’s family history, it is the perfect book to insure teens read an unvarnished story about the Holocaust. I could not stop crying when finished. Adult readers will not be disappointed.
Many thanks to Aladdin Books / Simon & Schuster and Goodreads for the opportunity to read this book in advance of its publication.
Rated 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Historical Fiction / YA - Suitable for Readers Age 13 years+
Publication Date: May 18, 2021.
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