Summary: Broken Strings
In Broken Strings, Shirli Berman has her eyes set on a role in her school’s play. It’s 2002, just after the Twin Towers and the death of Shirli’s grandmother (Bubie). Even though she doesn’t eventually score her desired role, she ends up playing another one of the key roles anyway. To add to it, her stage husband is Ben Morgan, the most popular boy in school.
At the same time, Shirli is also learning about her family’s history from her grandfather (Zayde) who has been silent on the matter his entire adult life. When she’s in the attic looking for costumes and props for the play, she stumbles on some of her grandfather’s personal items that raise many questions in her mind about his past and may explain some of his present behavior, like why he doesn’t let anyone sing in the house, for example.
This book does a wonderful job of discussing the Holocaust and even 9/11 although not in as much detail as it does the Holocaust. Zayde is a sweet character and his story is interesting, if a bit drawn out by the authors’ storytelling. I really loved the theater angle and seeing what goes on behind the scenes of a large-scale play. The characters in this story are also likable, especially Ben and Shirli and Shirli has an honest tone as she shares her initial disappointment with the role she’s assigned. I loved that Shirli’s Bubie has such a strong presence throughout the book despite her being deceased at the start of the story.
There is a definitely a strong theme of unity despite racial and cultural differences as seen in Zayde’s friendship with Amir, for example. Shirli and Natasha also have a nice friendship and it was nice to see Shirli’s family, both immediate and extended have a substantial role in the story. A big win for this story is that it makes the Holocaust accessible for middle-grade readers because it’s not bogged down with too many historical or concentration camp details. Finally, the initial mystery of Shirli finding her Zayde’s items is intriguing and will keep readers tuned in for a major portion of the story.
The premise of this story is so moving, but I felt like Zayde’s story took an unnecessarily long time to be told. I guess it isn’t an easy topic to discuss, but after a while, it just felt like a TV show with too many cliffhangers. There are also many parts of this book that read a bit cliché to me, especially all the sit-down sessions with Zayde and some of the theater portions. It was more an issue with the storytelling/writing than the story itself which was immersive and relavant.
Overall: Broken Strings
Broken Strings is a strong middle-grade release about the pain of the past and how it can affect future generations. This novel features characters with a deep love of music, a captivating account of surviving the Jewish Holocaust, and the beauty of unlikely friendships. If you enjoy books with any of the themes mentioned, then this book is right up your alley. I would definitely recommend it to fans of middle-grade historical fiction.
Buy Broken Strings
More Books About History & Grandparents
- The Long Ride by Marina Budhos (about desegregation)
- The Memory Keeper by Jennifer Camiccia (grandparent with Alzheimer’s)
- Shouting at the Rain (child living with grandmother)
Have you read this book or any by Eric Walters? This is my first time reading any of his work and it was nice to see he’d co-written with Kathy Kacer. I don’t think I’ve ever read a middle-grade book by two authors. If you love middle-grade books about grandparents, you’ll enjoy this list of 19 selections I made recently.