Stones in Water by Donna Jo Napoli
Reviewed by Diana Cmeyla
This amazing tale of survival, war and friendship is based on the real experiences of a Venetian youth. The United States is at war with the Axis powers and American films are rare in Italy, but when one comes to Venice, Roberto, his older brother Sergio, and Roberto's friends Memo and Samuele really want to see it. Roberto and Sergio creep from their home (so Mother will not give them work) and meet up with Memo and Samuele. Sergio rips the Star of David off of Samuele's sleeve, and they go to the theater. The room darkens, the lights flash on, and German soldiers march down the aisles. The younger boys are herded together, brought to the train station and loaded into trains, separating them from Sergio.
This harrowing tale of inhumanity, strength, and friendship begins in terror. Memo and Roberto protect Samuele, and Samuele gives them strength to withstand the horrors they see. Roberto and Samuele face hardships, death, back-breaking work, starvation, freezing, and fighting with others for survival. One boy loses this battle while the other escapes and faces equally difficult challenges on his way back to Germany. This novel draws the reader in and leaves its mark behind. The message is powerful, leaving one wishing that people were not really like this, when in reality war is awful and people can be savage. The book is beautifully written, and it is a good choice for those interested in World War II, survival, or overcoming odds.
Donna Jo Napoli has written numerous books in various genres; my favorites being her books based on fairy tales and legends. But survival stories are also favorites and another great author to consider is Gary Paulsen. One of his most well-known books is Hatchet, a survival story with a rescue in the end. But in Brian’s Winter, readers are asked to imagine that Brian was not rescued and survival is taken a step further.