Annexed, by Sharon Dogar. Houghton Mifflin, 2010. 337 pages.
Maturity Level: Ages 15-18
One-Word Summary: Annexed is the fictionalized story of Peter van Pels, Anne Frank’s fellow inmate, who offers a moving account of the Holocaust for teens, but no real hope.
Are you still there? Are you listening? That’s the voice of Peter van Pels, the teenaged boy whose father was a business associate of Otto Frank. Peter and his parents, as is well known, sheltered with the Franks for two years in a small apartment hidden in a warehouse: the “annex.” This book is his story, as imagined by the author. As it begins, he’s on the run. Instructed to go to the warehouse where his concealment will begin, instead he hurries to his girlfriend’s house, hoping at least for a goodbye kiss before escaping into the countryside. But within view of her house he sees a government van parked in front, and soon after the whole family is loaded up and taken away, leaving Peter feeling like a helpless nobody. During his first weeks at the annex, he literally turns his face to the wall. Only gradually does he come out of his funk, but everything irritates him. Especially Mr. Frank’s youngest daughter Anne: nosy, talky, prying, tactless –and to make it worse she appears to have a crush on him. But as the months pass, she slowly changes from an obstreperous little girl to a fascinating young woman of fourteen. It’s not surprising that Peter falls in love with her, since one of his obsessions is whether he will ever have the opportunity to make love to a girl. Almost sixteen when he enters the annex, his mind is in the territory occupied by most teenage boys. But then Anne falls in love with another: her diary. She dedicates herself to making a record of her thoughts and impressions, as if foreseeing an early death, and Peter is the one whose love goes unrequited. That’s the state of affairs on August 4, 1944, when their hiding place is invaded. The “annex,” a boxy, airless, tacked-on necessity, proves to be just a holding pen.
Ann’s diary ends here, of course, but Peter’s account goes on for another fifty-six pages, recounting the last seven months of his life. Arriving at Auschwitz, he tries to hold on to his mother with one hand and Anne with the other, but they are torn away from him. His identity, except his Jewishness, has been stripped from him along with his clothes. He never had the chance to figure out who he was or what was true.
In spite of Peter’s vision at the very end, of Anne and Margo and his parents and girlfriend hovering over him in a cloud of words, there’s no real hope here. “Jump, Peter!” they shout together. Only death can deliver him, and only his words remain (Are you listening?) That’s the last question. As a portrait of a young man in extremis, Annexed is valuable. As a guide to dealing with unanswerable questions, not so much. It is honest but incomplete.
Cautions: Sexuality/Sensuality (unfulfilled sexual longings of the main character), Language (vulgar words in the last 50 pages), Dark/Depressing (semi-graphic scenes of death at Auschwitz)
Overall Value: 3.5 (out of 5)
- Worldview/moral value: 3
- Artistic Value: 3.75
Categories: Historical Fiction, Young Adult, History, Modern History, War, Life Issues, Discussion Starter
Tags: Annexed, Sharon Dogan, Peter van Pels, Anne Frank, Holocaust fiction, historical fiction, young adult, World War II, death, suffering
- Literary Element: If you’ve read Anne Frank’s Diary, what picture do you have of Peter van Pels? How does his own (fictional) account contrast with Anne’s view of him?
- Thematic Element: “I believe in people, Anne! In you and me, and even Dr. Pfeiffer. In all of us.” This might be seen as Peter’s statement of faith. How does it fit with his view of the Nazis?
- Worldview Element: While still in the annex, Peter van Pels gives up his belief in God: “It’s not the idea of God I don’t like, it’s the choosing. It’s that one religion is meant to be better than the others. I mean, how is God deciding any different from Nazis deciding . . . ?” How would you answer that?
Cover image from Amazon