By Morris Gleitzman
Published by Puffin
Sequels can be a let-down because they are often written for the wrong reasons. How often do you hear that the second book in the series was nowhere near as good as the first?
But this certainly isn't the case with Morris Gleitzman's Then, the follow-up to his highly successful, exquisitely written best-seller Once. And thankfully, the second part is just as moving and as well-written as the first. Gleitzman is too talented a writer to churn out a sequel of no merit.
Then continues the story of Felix, a now 10-year-old Jewish boy in Poland who is on the run from Nazi troops searching the country to arrest Jews and transport them to concentration camps.
Life for Felix is sad and desperate. He has rescued a little girl called Zelda, and must now look after her as well as himself. The two of them have escaped from a train headed for the death camps, and Felix has to use all his courage and intelligence to stay one step ahead of the German soldiers searching for people like him.
In one of the most moving and bone-chilling scenes ever written in young adult fiction, Zelda and Felix discover a pit filled with the bodies of children executed by the Nazis. Then is a fictional story of two children chased by monsters; but the monsters are very real.
The pair hide in a forest and are discovered by a kind woman who lives on a nearby farm. Genia offers to keep Felix and Zelda safe, and renames them Wilhelm and Violeta.
But is Genia's benevolence for real, or will she betray them? Felix wants to believe she's genuine, but experience has taught him to trust no one.
All around the farm where Genia lives, Felix and Zelda find good, kind people. But there are also frightened and greedy individuals who are out for self-survival. Nothing and nobody can be taken at face value.
As the story moves on, events become even more deadly. The danger and evil that the Nazis have brought to Poland contrast darkly with Felix's emotions as a growing boy. He is still an innocent child, but his childhood is being destroyed by the terrible evils of war.
The central characters in Then are young children, but this is a book for older readers: it doesn't shy away from reality, and contains scenes that will upset younger readers.
This is an inspiring, powerful and important read that shows the strength of the human spirit when faced with the impossible.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com