When the World Was Ours

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Modern Age

When the World Was Ours
Author: Kessler, Liz
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Time Period: Modern Age
Time Frame: 1936-1945
Geographic Area: Europe
Country: Austria
Topics: WWII Holocaust
Genre: Fiction
Reading Age: Upper Middle Grade, Young Adult
Format: Novel
Published: 2021

Content Warning
abuse, death, genocide

World History > Modern Age > WWII

From the New York Times bestselling author of the Emily Windsnap series, Liz Kessler, comes a poignant and harrowing story of three young friends whose fates are intertwined during the devastation of the Holocaust—based on a true story.

Three friends. One memory. Vienna. 1936.

Three young friends—Leo, Elsa, and Max—spend a perfect day together, unaware that around them Europe is descending into a growing darkness and that they will soon be cruelly ripped apart from one another. With their lives taking them across Europe—to Germany, England, Prague, and Poland—will they ever find their way back to one another? Will they want to?

Inspired by a true story, When the World Was Ours is an extraordinary novel that is as powerful as it is heartbreaking and that shows how the bonds of love, family, and friendship allow glimmers of hope to flourish, even in the most hopeless of times.

Emily's Review

Gosh. This book was just so good. It's up there in my top World War 2/Holocaust books.

In When the World Was Ours, we follow three children, Leo, Elsa, and Max, throughout the course of the war. The story opens when they are 9 years old, celebrating one of their birthdays with a magical day on the town. The three are best friends, inseparable. But Leo and Elsa are Jewish, and as Europe falls under Hitler's sway, the three take different paths.

This book completely broke my heart. I expected sadness, knowing that it was a book about the Holocaust and Nazi Germany, but it still was a gut punch. I appreciate that the author based one of the storylines on her own family's history.

These kinds of books are so important. I think it is easy to imagine that World War 2 is ancient history and that we live in a much more enlightened society. But, particularly Max's storyline shows that under the right (or rather, wrong) conditions, any one of us could turn our backs on a group of people who have been othered the way Jews, Roma, LGBTQ, and anyone different was during the 1930s and 40s. Never again means never again for anyone.

This is definitely making it into my top reads of 2021.

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