Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli

Amazingly powerful story about a young orphan who roams the streets of Warsaw, Poland stealing food and striving to be invisible. He doesn't know much about the world until another orphan, Uri, finds him and gives him the name Misha, a history, and a way to become truly invisible. Misha records with unflinching honesty his first experience meeting a Jackboot (Nazi soldiers) and his own naive belief he was safe from them: he's a Gypsy and not a Jew. Above all, Misha is curious - excessively so - and his curiosity leads him into to more than one seriously dangerous situation after another. Sometimes bringing about unexpected happiness, like meeting Janinia and other times that led to profound grief as he is herded into the Warsaw Ghetto along with other Jews.

Without Misha's exuberance and curiosity, this book could have been devastatingly sad, but instead half the time I was chuckling over some new scrape he had gotten himself into. Misha witnesses firsthand the cruelty of the Nazis, poignantly illustrated in one scene where Nazi officers bring their girlfriends to the Ghetto to throw food to the prisoners as if they were birds in a park.

Spinelli is a masterful writer. This story could be read for its powerful plot lines, for its treatment of families and friendships, or for its rendering of one boy's horrifying experience in a Jewish Ghetto. Much can be gained from either perspective.

What stayed with me the most were the descriptions of his adult years - Misha's struggle to fit into society after facing so many horrors in his youth. I found myself going back and rereading multiple passages becuase I couldn't bear to put it down. So very moving.

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