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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Annexed Tells Peter's Side of the Anne Frank Story

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When Anne Frank began her diary, she had no idea that one day, it would be read by millions of people. Neither did Peter Van Pels. He could not have foreseen that the world would come to know him based on the scribblings of a 13-year-old girl. If he had lived (he died at Mathausen in 1945), what would he have thought of her portrayal of him? Would he agree with her observations or vehemently deny them? If Peter had kept a diary, what would he have said about Anne, Margot, Otto and the rest of his Annex roommates? The answers to these questions will never be known. In Annexed (available October 2010), Sharon Dogar's fictionalized account of Peter's ordeal, the British author imagines what he might have thought, felt and experienced. It's a sensitive, realistic portrayal of a young man the world will only ever know through the eyes of another.
The story, which moves between Peter's days in the death camps, and those he spends in the Annex, begins on the morning Peter goes into hiding: July 13, 1942. Although the 16-year-old is grateful to the Franks for allowing his family to join them in the Annex, he's not looking foward to spending his time cooped up inside. And with annoying Anne Frank, no less. Desperately missing his (fictional) girlfriend, Liese, Peter's sad and moody, knowing he'll most likely never see her again. His new life holds little interest for him. He can only read so many books, draw so many pictures. Peter longs to be outside, running free. But, he can't leave the prison of the Annex. Nor can he run, shout, peek his head out the window, or let his guard down. Ever. His life, and those of his family, depend on staying quiet, hidden away.
Naturally, the people in the Annex grow bored, quickly becoming irritated with one another. The women bicker, Otto Frank tries to keep the peace, and Anne never stops talking. Or writing in her infernal diary. Peter can't escape his father's scrutiny or Dr. Pfeffer's unpleasant smells. He has no privacy, nowhere to really be alone. Through their forced togetherness, Peter and Anne eventually form a close friendship. Despite a crowd of prying eyes, their relationship blossoms into a romance full of stolen moments in which they share their thoughts, dream of better times, and try to keep their raging hormones in check. When betrayal leads all of the Annex's occupants to Nazi death camps, Peter mourns the days of relative peace spent hidden away. Mostly, he grieves for Anne, the girl he loves. As he lays dying, it's her he thinks of, her he longs to see, her for whom he pines.
Like most Holocaust stories, Annexed is horrifying, yet strangely compelling. Largely unsentimental, the book's nonetheless a moving tale of a boy's desperate fight for survival against insurmountable odds. It's bleak, depressing and hopeful all at the same time. Although the book's publication has been marred by controversy (click here and here for more info), I didn't find Dogar's portrayals of Peter, Anne, or the other "characters" in the story at all offensive. We'll never know what truly happened in the Annex and that's okay. Personally, I find Dogar's interpretation almost as valid as Anne's - after all, who's to say that the words of a young girl (especially an imaginative dreamer like Anne Frank) are any less true than Dogar's fictionalized, but well-researched account? The fact is, we'll never know. And personally, I don't care all that much. The story's always going to be gripping, heartbreaking, and utterly affecting - no matter how it's told.
Annexed is not the best written Holocaust tale ever, but it's definitely compelling. Drogar drew me into Peter's story right away, making me want to keep reading even though I knew exactly how it would end. While Peter may not be as vibrant or as lovable as Anne Frank, his tale is still worthy of being told - I think Dogar does an admirable job of telling it. Some of Dogar's prose needs work, sure, and I desperately hope that 90% of the exclamation points that appear in the ARC will be edited out, but all in all, I found Annexed a fulfilling read. Not the "sexed up" book it's been accused of being (although Peter does have some rather vivid dreams), just an honest re-telling of a familiar story. If you've ever longed to hear Peter's side of the story, you'll want to give this one a try.
** I'm not a huge fan of book trailers, but I thought Sharon Dogar's thoughts on writing Annexed were interesting:

(Readalikes: Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl; The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank by Ellen Feldman)
Grade: B-
If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for mild language (no F-bombs), sexual content (most of which occurs in Peter's imagination) and violence
To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of Annexed from the generous folks at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Thank you!


  1. Awesome review!! My cousin (age 15) is really interested in Anne Frank, is this a YA book?? I'm not worried about the so-called sexed up ness if it's YA, but i just don't want to recommend something more for adults to her. Thanks in advance :)

  2. ANNEXED is a YA book, yep. It has sex, but it's all in Peter's mind/dreams and isn't nearly as graphic as scenes in other YA books I've read.


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