PAPER HEARTS, the first young adult novel of Meg Wiviott, tells the story of Zlakta and Fania, two Polish Jewish girls who meet in the concentration camp Auschwitz after becoming separated from their families during World War II. The girls eventually become best friends, along with Bronia, Guta and Giza. The girls look out for each other as they face the atrocities of Auschwitz and become a family, sharing their measly portions of bread with each other and illegally bartering for medicine when Zlatka becomes ill. When Fania’s 20th birthday nears, Zlatka secretly constructs a paper heart for her from smuggled supplies, representing everything the Nazis long to crush: hope, love and freedom.
Based on the true story of Fania and Zlatka’s friendship, PAPER HEARTS is a heart-wrenching read, told from the dual perspectives of Fania and Zlatka and written in poetry-like prose. The novel is especially tragic because it is based on a real story, including often gruesome details that the reader must acknowledge as true. Still, the friendship between Fania and Zlakta will lift the reader’s spirits as they continue to care about each other and take risks for each other, even when they would be safer only looking out for themselves.
PAPER HEARTS is a heart-wrenching read, told from the dual perspectives of Fania and Zlatka and written in poetry-like prose.
Zlakta’s strong-willed personality and bravery complements Fania’s limitless kindness perfectly, making their friendship easily the best part of PAPER HEARTS. The sense of hope that persists throughout the novel reminds the reader that even in the darkest times, human compassion continues to exist, and even thrive. The novel is well researched, and although Wiviott fills in gaps with her imagination, the story of Fania and Zlakta feels intact. Today, the paper heart Zlakta made for Fania is on display in the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre, lending even more relevance to the novel.
Because the novel is written in a poetry-like fashion, the 300-plus pages read quickly. Wiviott gives little detail about Fania’s or Zlatka’s families or build-up before the girls reach Auschwitz, which in some ways feels like a missed opportunity. Although it is tragic when the girls are separated from their families, it would feel weightier if the reader was given more time to grow attached to both girls’ ways of life before the Holocaust. It is also hard to feel a real sense of what either girl was like before the Holocaust. For example, although Zlatka mentions winning a prize to take a train to Warsaw, she never mentions why she won the prize. In Fania’s case, she just mentions she has always been a “good girl.” It is possible, though, that Wiviott could not find much about the girls or their families before the Holocaust and did not want to create details that would erase Zlatka’s and Fania’s true identities.
The sense of hope that persists throughout the novel reminds the reader that even in the darkest times, human compassion continues to exist, and even thrive.
Although both girls are very likeable throughout the novel, it is difficult to detect character growth, which is frustrating because I’m certain that the Holocaust would have greatly changed both girls. This also holds true when describing Bronia, Guta, and Giza, Although their names are mentioned, we don’t learn much more, making it impossible to understand what their personalities are like.
Overall, PAPER HEARTS is a quick, emotional read that is perfect for readers who already have some background knowledge on the Holocaust and World War II. Although the novel can be difficult to keep reading because of the horrific topic, the hopeful feel of love and friendship that continues throughout PAPER HEARTS makes it well worth the read.
Reviewed by Janine C., Teen Board Member on September 3, 2015
by Meg Wiviott
- Publication Date: September 1, 2015
- Genres:Youth Fiction
- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
- ISBN-10: 1481439839
- ISBN-13: 9781481439831
A forbidden gift helps two teenage girls find hope, friendship, and the will to live in this “beautifully told true story about brave young women who refused to be victims and walked out of Auschwitz with their heads unbowed” (School Library Journal).
An act of defiance.
A statement of hope.
A crime punishable by death.
Making a birthday card in Auschwitz was all of those things. But that is what Zlatka did, in 1944, for her best friend, Fania. She stole and bartered for paper and scissors, secretly creating an origami heart. Then she passed it to every girl at the work tables to sign with their hopes and wishes for happiness, for love, and most of all—for freedom.
Fania knew what that heart meant, for herself and all the other girls. And she kept it hidden, through the bitter days in the camp and through the death marches. She kept it always.
This novel is based on the true story of Fania and Zlatka, the story of the bond that helped them both to hope for the best in the face of the worst. Their heart is one of the few objects created in Auschwitz, and can be seen today in the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre.