Rachel’s Secret by Shelly Sanders (pub date 4/1/12)
“We are exiles in our own country.”
A young teen’s childhood innocence is lost forever as she faces hatred and violence in this powerful debut YA novel.
Inspired by actual events, Rachel’s Secret is set amidst the anti-Jewish riots which took place in 1903 Russia. Fourteen-year-old Rachel is a bright and spirited Jewish girl, who dreams of one day becoming a writer. After a day of ice skating with her friends, she returns to the ice pond to retrieve her lost shawl and ends up witnessing the murder of her gentile friend Mikhail. Terrified of what could happen to her and her family if she reveals the truth, Rachel keeps what she saw a secret.
Soon after, Mikhail’s murder is blamed on the Jewish community, and wild stories about Jews killing gentiles for blood rituals are spread in the local newspapers. Rachel, who never before thought of Jews and gentiles as being so different, now comes to know the pain of being hated simply because of her religion. Then violence erupts in her small town, and Rachel’s life is changed forever. These circumstances force her to make a choice of whether to reveal her secret and put herself at greater risk, or keep it hidden and let the truth die.
Aside from the story and the solid writing, what makes Rachel’s Secret so compelling is that it is based on historical events. Rachel’s character is based on author Shelly Sanders’ grandmother, who fled from Russia to Shanghai due to anti-Jewish pogroms. Eventually, Sanders’ grandmother made her way to the United States, and it was her strength and persistence that inspired Sanders to write this book.
This is a great book for YA readers, and can be enjoyed by adults as well. It’s nice to see a YA story with substance, instead of more recycled dystopian/vampire junk. For anyone interested in European or Jewish history, I would definitely recommend this book.