Born in Germany in 1929, Anne Frank and her family immigrated to Holland to escape the Nazi's persecution of the Jewish people, but unfortunately it followed them there when the Nazis invaded the country. Anne, her parents and her older sister went into hiding in the upper rooms of the building in which her father had co-owned and run a business. They were accompanied by four other people, which included a family of three and an older man who was a dentist. These eight people lived in extraordinary circumstance for two years before tragically being discovered. During that time, Anne kept a diary, not only of their daily lives, but of her deepest thoughts and innermost feelings. Given the way in which they were forced to live, there is still a surprising amount of normalcy to her writings. We see her grow from a young teenager to a more mature young woman, and in the process, she experiences the first blush of young love with the son of the other family in their little Secret Annexe. The Diary of a Young Girl is one of the most striking and memorable personal accounts of Jewish persecution to come out of WWII.
I'm pretty sure I read a biography of Anne Frank when I was a kid or perhaps a teenager, and might have seen a movie about her life as well. In any case, I was very aware of her story, but for some reason, I hadn't ever read her iconic book, The Diary of a Young Girl, until now. Anne, a young Jewish girl whose family escaped Germany during the rise of the Nazi regime and immigrated to Holland, received the diary for her thirteenth birthday. By then the Nazis had invaded Holland and were beginning to systematically arrest Jewish people and send them to concentration camps. Not long after Anne started her diary, she and her family and four other people went into hiding in the secret rooms on the upper floors of her father's former place of business. She wrote the diary between 1942 and 1944 from the time she was age thirteen to fifteen. Anne struggled to relate to her family and feel comfortable sharing her introspections with them, so she treats the dairy (and consequently the reader) as her best friend, the one "person" to whom she can pour out all her deepest thoughts and longings. As such, she nicknames the diary, "Kitty," and each entry is written as though she's writing a letter to "Kitty." I also didn't realize until after reading it, while looking up some information, that Anne gave pseudonyms to everyone, including her own family, while writing it. When her father later decided to publish the diary, he left all of these pseudonyms in place except for his own family's names, so if the reader wants to know the real names of the people who were so important to Anne during those years and more about their lives, you'll need to do a bit of research.
Knowing all about the dark time and the difficult circumstances in which Anne lived, I went into reading this book thinking that it, too, would probably be dark and morose, but it turned out to be anything but. I was struck by how it reads exactly like the diary of any normal teenage girl. It's filled with her hopes and dreams, drama and angst, frustrations over family difficulties and over the trouble everyone in the Secret Annexe had getting along. We also see her experience the first blush of young love when she falls for the son of the other family with whom they're living, at which point, she waxes into blissful romanticism. Despite me knowing what was happening outside the Secret Annexe, it oftentimes doesn't feel like such extraordinary circumstances surround them. Anne is surprisingly upbeat, positive, and often witty, giving the impression of a relatively mundane existence. Yet, periodically she breaks this sense of normalcy by giving an update on war news they heard from their helpers or on the radio. And then there are the handful of times, when a true terror of being found takes over. But by and large, I was impressed with how she was able to focus on the everyday things, such as continuing her education, reading books, writing, and feeding her curiosities and hobbies. It made for a much more positive reading experience than I ever would have expected.
I was rather shocked to discover that The Diary of a Young Girl made the ALA's top ten banned books of the decade 2010-2019. It often shows up on school reading lists and given its YA author, it's a book that many young people are likely to be assigned to read at some point or want to read on their own, so I'll address the potentially objectionable content of which there really isn't that much IMHO. I only recall one lone bad word in the entire book. On a couple of occasions Anne discusses her maturing body with "Kitty," because she finds it rather difficult to talk with her family about these changes. However, it's a very minor part and all done so in a pretty basic and clinical way. It's my understanding that there are multiple editions of the book. The one I read is apparently the original published edition that had a few parts of the diary omitted, but later publications added some of these parts back in. One of the objections to this newer edition I saw was that Anne briefly describes female genitalia in, once again, a rather humorous, curious, and clinical way. I don't know if there's more than this, but based on the very short excerpt I read, it's my opinion that kids around middle school age and up should already know these basics, so this really shouldn't be an issue. The only other thing of this nature is that she briefly mentions having kissed a girl and wanting to touch the girl's breasts (it didn't actually happen, though). Since Anne was definitely attracted to boys - and at one point described herself as boy-crazy - I couldn't say if this minor incident was an indicator of bisexuality or mere youthful curiosity. But in any case, it only amounts to one or two lines in the whole book, so not a big deal IMO. The last thing is that there are the handful of fear-inducing moments that Anne describes, as well as historical and biographical information given at the end of the book that tells the outcome for Anne and all of the residents of the Secret Annexe, but for the most part, I'd say that these things aren't written in a particularly graphic way. Not to mention, it's pretty important for youth to learn about these atrocities, so that we can prevent them from happening again. I recently read an article that talked about how little people in their teens and twenties nowadays actually know about the Holocaust, which I find very saddening. Taking everything into account, my opinion is that this book would be fine for kids of about twelve and up.
Overall, I found The Diary of a Young Girl to be an interesting read. As I said before, it wasn't quite what I expected. Anne was clearly a talented writer who had aspirations of writing professionally when the war was over. She actually wrote other short stories and essays while in hiding, as well as an unfinished novel, all of which have been published since. She had plans to use her diary to write a book about their experiences as well. She was a bright, vibrant, intelligent, and independent young woman whose personality shone through in her writing. Given the two year time frame over which the diary was written, one can see a maturation in Anne over those years with her growing from a rather mischievous and sometimes rebellious youth into a more thoughtful and introspective young woman. She waxes pretty philosophical on more than one occasion, impressing me with her insights into life and her pragmatic approach to her circumstances. I'll admit that since the book is written in diary, or perhaps it could even be said, epistolary, format, it isn't quite as engaging as a narrative memoir would be, which is why I didn't give it the full five stars. But I can't deny that for its sheer historical significance, it's definitely going on my keeper shelf. While the dairy itself had a relatively positive vibe, the hardest part of reading it was simply knowing that its vibrant author's life and all the promise that came with it was snuffed out far too early by one of the greatest evils mankind has ever known, which leaves me with a heavy sense of responsibility to make sure that stories like hers are never silenced.
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