The Songbird and the Rambutan Tree

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Modern Age

The Songbird and the Rambutan Tree
Author: Abendanon, Lucille
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Time Period: Modern Age
Time Frame: 1942-1945
Geographic Area: Asia
Country: Indonesia
Topics: WWII
Genre: Fiction
Reading Age: Upper Middle Grade, Young Adult
Format: Novel
Published: 2024

World History > Modern Age > WWII

Batavia, Dutch East Indies, 1942.

Emmy has the voice of an angel but hasn’t sung a note since a family tragedy. With war looming, her father plans to ship her off to a singing school in England for safety. But all Emmy wants to do is stay in Batavia with her best friend, Bakti, even if it means putting up with her snooty classmate, Violet. Then the Japanese army invades―and as war erupts in the Dutch East Indies, Emmy’s world falls apart.

When her own actions sabotage her chance to evacuate the island, Emmy is captured and confined in the Tjideng prisoner-of-war camp with other women and children. Separated from her family and friends, and silenced by her grief, Emmy will need all her strength to survive the war, find her voice, and reclaim her freedom.

Emily's Review

I was initially drawn to this story because I don't think I've ever read a book set in Indonesia during World War II. I was hooked from the beginning. This is excellent historical fiction. The author based this book on her grandmother's experiences during the war, and you could feel the love and admiration she holds for her throughout the story. Emmy is an amazing protagonist. So strong and courageous. This book is a great example of how we can become our best selves when everything is stripped away from us. She goes through so much in this book, but it never breaks her.

I loved the relationships in this story. The found family in the concentration camp is one of the best things about this book. The way they all help each other was beautiful. I also adore Bakti and Emmy's friendship, and the frenemies to best friends relationship between Emmy and Violet. They were all incredibly inspiring and gave me hope that most people are good and that the good can shine through in the darkest of places. I think this is why I'm so drawn to stories written in this period - I need to see that goodness, courage, and bravery.

This is one of those books that you will not be able to put down. The writing is lush and compelling, and you're going to want to read "just one more chapter" until suddenly you look up and you are not in Batavia, but your own home, and oops, you read the whole book in one sitting. This is a middle-grade story, but it has universal appeal. I think it would make an excellent read-aloud.

Because there are some very harrowing moments, I'd recommend this one for ages 10+

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