Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch, known for her previous YA novels about the Armenian genocide and the 1930s Ukranian famine, takes on the Nazis’ notorious obsession with racial purity in her new novel for middle-grade readers.
It is 1950, and 12-year-old Nadia Kravchuk arrives in Brantford, Ontario, with two kind people whom she knows are not her parents. Since the beginning of the Second World War she has lived with three different families, including one in a Displaced Persons camp, though her memory of the past has been blurred by trauma.
Nadia spends most of her time yearning to remember the past while simultaneously fearing what is lurking in her subconscious. Everyday things – a ginger snap, a yellow paint chip, a woman in a brown suit – trigger memories that Nadia must piece together to determine if she is the daughter of a Nazi general, a kidnappee, or both.
While flashbacks obviously have a place in a novel about a forgotten past, Skrypuch relies too heavily on the device. Nadia experiences almost two dozen flashbacks in this short novel, including a meeting with Hitler, a trip to a labour camp, and the time she read a children’s book filled with Nazi images and propaganda.
These memories are so much more engrossing and vivid than her present difficulties adjusting to life in Canada. The rather banal events of Nadia’s present function only as filler between flashbacks and as a failed attempt to generate suspense between bursts of memory.
This aside, Skrypuch succeeds in making some of the more horrific and lesser-known events of the Second World War accessible and engaging for younger readers. While those well-versed in history will likely predict the novel’s ending early on, most readers will be shocked to learn about the Nazi’s Lebensborn program, in which blonde, blue-eyed young people were kidnapped and brainwashed in order to propagate the Aryan race.
The historical vivacity of Stolen Child, coupled with endnotes on the facts behind the story, ultimately trumps a lack of action in the plot’s present.