Spinelli, Jerry. 2003. Milkweed.
Milkweed is a wonderful fictional account of the Holocaust. Set in Warsaw, Poland, our narrator is at first a nameless thief--a thief without a past, a family, or a name. Adopted by sorts by a gang of thieves--who steal to survive--he makes his way into the world. As he learns from the world around them, from his gang, from the people he encounters, he learns a few things. One, it is never a ‘good’ thing to be a Jew. It is dangerous if people think you’re a Jew. You get beaten up. You get killed. So his friends--one friend in particular, named Uri--makes up a story for this homeless boy. He’s a gypsy--being a gypsy is slightly safer than being a Jew--but not much. His created identity is Misha Pilsudski. But that is only one of the names he’ll wear throughout his life. Misha (formerly Stopthief) as the war progresses becomes a skilled smuggler who goes back and forth between the Jewish ghettos and the city. It’s a dangerous lifestyle. But these are dangerous times. Can anyone really be safe? In this harsh novel, our narrator learns some of the cruelties of life along with some of the small joys and pleasures. He learns to create and mold his own identity from the wreckage.
I think of all the voices that have told me who I have been, the names I’ve had. Call me thief. Call me stupid. Call me Gypsy. Call me Jew. Call me one-eared Jack. I don’t care. Empty-handed victims once told me who I was. Then Uri told me. Then an armband. Then an immigration officer. And now this little girl in my lap, this little girl whose call silences the tramping Jackboots. Her voice will be the last. I was. Now I am. I am. . . Poppynoodle.