Reviews for To Hope and Back : The Journey of the St. Louis

School Library Journal Reviews 2012 January

Gr 4-6-- This book sheds light on a dramatic story that is likely to be unfamiliar to most students. In 1939, the St. Louis transported Jewish refugees to Cuba. Their final destination was America, but they never made it there. Denied entrance to both countries, the ship was forced to return to Germany. From there, some passengers managed to find refuge elsewhere in Europe and successfully reach America, while others perished in concentration camps. Kacer's text is well written and well researched, and the black-and-white photography from the United States Holocaust Museum offers windows into everyday lives on the ship. Two child survivors share their experiences, telling their stories of sailing and longing for safe harbor. Playful Sol is the more likable, although it isn't completely Lisa's fault that she's less appealing: she has terrible seasickness throughout the voyage. At times, her thoughts and insights do not seem childlike. Although she is supposedly mourning her father, who committed suicide, she rarely thinks about his death. These first-person narratives are interspersed with a third-person account of the captain's futile struggle to gain freedom for his passengers. It may be jarring for readers to switch between the children's accounts and the journalistic style, especially at first, and some may be tempted to skip the captain's sections altogether. It is difficult to enter Sol's and Lisa's internal worlds because the journalistic sections interrupt the flow. In spite of this, the historical significance of the St. Louis and the compelling photos make this a worthwhile supplementary purchase.--Jess deCourcy Hinds, Bard H.S. Early College, Queens, NY

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VOYA Reviews 2012 February
In May 1939, the passenger ship St. Louis leaves Hamburg, Germany, en route to Havana, Cuba. On board are nine hundred passengers, nearly all of them Jews escaping Nazi persecution. Sol and Lisa are sad to be leaving their homes but happy to be leaving a country that hates them. Both have experienced the yellow stars and institutional racism, have had fathers affected by the Nazis, and witnessed Kristallnacht. As the voyage begins, they are fascinated with the ship and begin to look forward to their new life in America. When the ship is forbidden to land in Havana, will another country allow them to land, or will they be forced to an uncertain fate in Germany While Sol and Lisa have definitely been affected by the Holocaust (as the story begins, Lisa's father has committed suicide after being separated from the family, and Sol's father has just returned from seven months in a Polish work camp), they are not that different from any upper-elementary-school-age child. Based on interviews with Sol and Lisa, and well-illustrated with photos, the novel does an excellent job of mixing fictionalized history with actual events. While it does occasionally feel slightly heavy handed, it achieves its goal of presenting the St. Louis tragedy in a way that younger readers can relate to.--Steven Kral Illus. Photos. Footnotes. 3Q 3P M J Copyright 2011 Voya Reviews.