Just a Girl: A True Sto­ry of World War II

Lia Levi; Jess Mason, illus.; Sylvia Noti­ni, trans. 

  • Review
By – August 9, 2022

Lia Levi grew up in Italy with lov­ing par­ents and two younger sis­ters. In this sim­ple and effec­tive mem­oir, she recounts for young read­ers of today what life was like dur­ing the years 1938 – 1942. When Mus­soli­ni decid­ed Jew­ish chil­dren could no longer attend school, Levi was sent to a Jew­ish school instead; but as the stric­tures grew more oppres­sive and her father lost his job, the fam­i­ly was forced to move from city to city, even­tu­al­ly land­ing in Rome where Levi, her sis­ters, and her moth­er had no choice but to pose as Chris­tians. They lived in a con­vent where nuns shel­tered them and kept them safe until their lib­er­a­tion by Amer­i­can soldiers.

Levi looks back on those years from an adult van­tage point and inserts notes explain­ing the his­to­ry of the times. She assures the read­er at each turn that for this fam­i­ly, at least, things will work out. Despite her con­sol­ing, how­ev­er, there are moments in the book when the war looms large, as when Lia and her sis­ters must shel­ter in a bomb-proof base­ment while hear­ing the loud booms of air bat­tle above.

The nar­ra­tive is accom­pa­nied by full-page black-and-white illus­tra­tions invok­ing the dai­ly life Levi led, the char­ac­ters’ cloth­ing and facial expres­sions adding to the sto­ry’s immediacy.

Post-war life had its dif­fi­cul­ties, and read­just­ment was no easy task, but Levi and her fam­i­ly grad­u­al­ly rebuilt their lives. In an after­word, the author explains to her read­ers why it is impor­tant to remem­ber the past, even the painful parts, and why it is imper­a­tive to fight racism in all its forms. She adds a note of appre­ci­a­tion to the Amer­i­can sol­diers who were their lib­er­a­tors and reminds Amer­i­can chil­dren to appre­ci­ate their coun­try for the free­doms it provides.

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.

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