cover image Letters from Rifka

Letters from Rifka

Karen Hesse. Henry Holt & Company, $18.99 (148pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-1964-3

Twelve-year-old Rifka's journey from a Jewish community in the Ukraine to Ellis Island is anything but smooth sailing. Modeled on the author's great-aunt, Rifka surmounts one obstacle after another in this riveting novel. First she outwits a band of Russian soldiers, enabling her family to escape to Poland. There the family is struck with typhus. Everyone recovers, but Rifka catches ringworm on the next stage of the journey--and is denied passage to America (``If the child arrives . . . with this disease,'' explains the steamship's doctor, ``the Americans will turn her around and send her right back to Poland''). Rifka's family must leave without her, and she is billeted in Belgium for an agreeable if lengthy recovery. Further trials, including a deadly storm at sea and a quarantine, do not faze this resourceful girl. Told in the form of ``letters'' written by Rifka in the margins of a volume of Pushkin's verse and addressed to a Russian relative, Hesse's vivacious tale colorfully and convincingly refreshes the immigrant experience. Ages 9-12. (July)