cover image Halinka


Mirjam Pressler. Henry Holt & Company, $16.95 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-5861-1

Despite the disturbing-sounding setting--a residence for girls in Germany shortly after the end of WWII--this German novel is full of warmth and hope. Halinka, 12, prefers not to think about her abusive mother, and she would rather endure the other girls' taunts about her supposed Gypsy blood than tell them she is Jewish. Pressler doesn't whitewash Halinka's troubled past, but she refuses to emphasize it. She concentrates on the passage of a single week, showing the routine of the home and the interaction of the girls, all of them from damaged families. Halinka determines to win a contest to raise the most funds for a local charity (her ruses demonstrate a beyond-her-years resourcefulness); she trades punches with the class bully; she sneaks off to her private sanctuary, the luggage storeroom, in the middle of the night; she fights off her defenses to befriend a younger girl. What is remarkable is Halinka's complexity: she doesn't trust people but essentially likes them; she breaks rules and even steals yet she is basically good; she has seen too much and yet her voice is childlike. The optimistic note at the conclusion rises sturdily from Pressler's careful foundation, giving readers not a feel-good ending but something solid to feel good about. Ages 9-12. (Oct.)