Sometimes Sometimes you’re just so moved by a book, that you have to stop and write a review. The Safest Lie is one of those books.
The Safest Lie is the story of nine-year-old Anna Bauman, a Jewish girl living in Nazi occupied Poland during WW2. Anna and her parents have been evicted from their comfortable home with its piano, radio, comfy beds and an apple tree in the yard, and forced to share a room with strangers inside the Warsaw ghetto. One day Anna is offered a chance to escape and is smuggled outside by a network of extraordinary, brave individuals. After spending a year hiding in a Catholic orphanage, Anna is taken in by a Polish family who welcomes her into their home and their hearts.
The Safest Lie is about a dark time in history but it’s also a story that begins and ends with a hug. In the opening, Anna feels her mother’s arm draped over her “soft as a butterfly’s wing”. At the very end of the novel when Anna is reunited with her cousin Jakub, the hug is fierce and protective as her cousin pulls her to his chest. And between these two there are dozens of wonderfully tactile moments in which Cerrito uses small physical gestures to represent the kindness and love Anna finds and gives on her difficult journey.
There is the young girl who notices how badly Anna wants an apple after years of hunger and tells her, “…pick the one you like and I will save it just for you” then “crinkles brown paper around it”.
And there is Eva, the little four-year-old Anna shares a bed with at the orphanage, who tucks “her face into the crook of [Anna’s] elbow” and whispers, “I love you.”
The Safest Lie is immaculately researched and written with a careful observance of accurate historical detail. World War II is a dark and painful period in history. It’s difficult to imagine how a book about the Holocaust could ever be written for a Middle Grade audience, but Cerrito handles it gracefully. Written in the voice of Anna, all the ugliness of the war is seen and processed through the filter of nine-year-old eyes making the retelling of her story appropriate for a middle grade reader. The Safest Lie is written in the tradition of novels that not only entertain, but teach. Novels like Esperanza Rising. Novels that are an important addition to school and classroom libraries.