David Michael Slater
Library Tales Publishing (2022)
Reviewed by Megan Weiss for Reader Views (05/2022)
David Michael Slater’s “The Vanishing” is a transcendent experience. Sophie Siegel is still only a little girl when the Third Reich begins passing new laws intent on victimizing Jews and other minorities. On the morning of her eleventh birthday, this culminates in being forced to watch, stashed away in a closet, while a group of Nazis brutally murder her parents.
Afterwards, the girl is left invisible to the world around her. She can touch others. She can pick things up and still needs to eat and bathe and do everything else that makes a human, human. It is a blessing, because she is safe from the Nazi’s. It is a horror, because she is forced to watch those she cares about be tortured, killed and treated like animals. All of it, she must weather alone. If there is one thing she can do with her newfound vanishing, however, it would be to make it her life’s mission to keep her young best friend, Giddy Goldfarb, safe. Over the next four years, and in life beyond the war, Sophie will become his own guardian angel. Following him from the ghetto, to a commandant’s mansion, and through the wilderness of Germany, Sophie learns that in a world full of horrors, by working together and bonding with those we fight with, she, Giddy and newfound friends can become an everlasting blessing in the lives of others.
“The Vanishing” is a difficult book to get through. Not because of the way it is written, or how the characters are portrayed. It is difficult to get through, because Slater has unashamedly portrayed the horrors of the Holocaust for what they were, and through the eyes of two children. I have read many books, children’s books, Young Adult books, and adult literature, that have focused on this time period, and I do not think any managed to quite capture the unfiltered horror the way Slater has. The use of such a young narrator, however, makes the book accessible to younger audiences.
Throughout “The Vanishing,” I tried to pinpoint what exactly the purpose of Sophie’s invisibility was. I came to many different answers. Maybe she was actually killed that morning in the closet, and transcended into an angelic form, like Giddy claims she is for him. Maybe her invisibility is an attestation to feeling alone, terrified and hopeless during a time when every day seemed to bring Sophie and her Jewish loved ones closer and closer to brutal, unnecessary torture and death. Maybe Sophie is so determined to save just one person in her life, after witnessing her parent’s deaths, that God grants her the ability to become a real Golem-like protector that she loves reading about. Maybe it is all these things or none of them at all. Regardless, the invisibility factor adds a certain weight to the book that makes Sophie’s triumphs, failures, and pain seem even more palpable. After all, how many of us have wanted to scream endlessly into a void, and not have anyone hear us? Sophie screams into the void many times during the book, yet all you want as a reader is for her to one day, finally¸ to be heard.
Slater’s “The Vanishing” should not be shied away from. Yes, it is violent. It is graphic and gritty, but all the horrors inside provide the reader with a palpable, authentic reading experience. In order to truly capture the genuine sorrow and terror of a historical period like the Holocaust, authors cannot be afraid to do so unfiltered. The Holocaust was unfiltered, and to portray it like Slater has really brought home what daily life was like for millions and millions of innocent people in Germany, Poland, Austria, and across Eastern Europe.
A great choice for older teens, and even for high school social studies curriculums, “The Vanishing” by David Michael Slater is a valuable read for all. In it, we are reminded again, and again, that one person really can make a difference, even if it’s just in the life of one other person. We all have the power to be someone else’s angel. We all have the choice to make our memories be for a blessing.
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