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Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
Gerlinda is an historical novel written for preteens and new young adults by Emily-Jane Hills Orford. Gerlinda was a bit of an outcast at Chambers Elementary School. The eighth-grader wore a dress that was tattered and shabby, and had probably never been washed. She smelled funny because there was no soap at home and the hot water heater at home was broken, so there was no way for her to even wash or keep her clothing clean. Hunger was a part of her daily existence, but she made sure never to let her father hear her complain or ask for food. His responses to both her, her siblings, and her mother were swift and brutal. Her father was German and had been part of the Hitler Youth movement, but now he was simply the angry and often drunken man who terrorized his family. While it was now 1966, some twenty years after the war, he remained angry over the defeat of the Germans and the aftermath of WWII. The other eighth-graders at school avoided being near Gerlinda because of her unfortunate body odor, and there was a group of boys and girls who delighted in teasing her. Still, Gerlinda was a first pick for any sports team, and she was a faster and better athlete than any of those boys who had so much fun picking on her. When the school tryouts for the swim team were announced, Gerlinda thought this would be her chance to finally fit in. Then she got to know Mrs. Martinez, who was the shopkeeper at one of the stores Gerlinda had to steal from to feed the family, and somehow the kindly woman became her mentor and her friend.
Emily-Jane Hills Orford’s preteen and new young adult historical novel, Gerlinda, grabbed my attention from the first page. This is a marvelous novel! I couldn’t help but feel for the young girl who had so much going for her, but was so hampered by her dysfunctional family situation. The author’s handling of the cultural upheavals that were the result of the Second World War is intelligent and perceptive. I was angered by the insensitivity and sadistic impulses of Gerlinda’s father, and thrilled when she found both her voice and her friend. Gerlinda is a beautifully written look at the not-so-distant past, and one can’t help but notice the changes that have taken place in dealing with cases of domestic abuse and neglect. This preteen and new young adult novel is stunningly good, and it’s most highly recommended.