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The Forest of Vanishing Stars    by Kristin Harmel order for
Forest of Vanishing Stars
by Kristin Harmel
Order:  USA  Can
Simon & Schuster, 2021 (2021)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Kristin Harmel, author of the heartwarming novel When We Meet Again, now brings us another intriguing and unusual read in The Forest of Vanishing Stars, a historical with strong magical elements.

As the story opens in 1922, an infant is stolen from a wealthy young German couple (the father a fan of Hitler) in Berlin. Old Jerusza, who has the gift of knowing 'impossible things', takes small Inge (renamed Yona) into the wilderness of Eastern Europe. Jerusza raises Yona; teaches her Yiddish and other languages; to understand science and work with numbers; how to survive in the wilderness (including through its harsh winters); how to heal; and many ways to kill a man. She teaches Yona that 'the only safe place is the forest.'

In 1942, Jerusza dies, but not before telling Yona her parents' names, asserting that they were bad people. Yona wanders the forest alone until she comes upon Jewish refugees. The first family rejects her help, but another group accepts and survives with her assistance, hiding in and living off the forest. Yona falls in love with Aleksander, who betrays her. Always feeling the outsider, she leaves the group she rescued. Eventually she's captured by Germans, her birth father one of the officers. He wants her back, but he is still the enemy.

Yona flees to warn her Jewish friends of a German plan to move into the forest and wipe them out. She finds and leads them to survive many challenges. She fights alongside them and learns to love truly, even though it might lead to loss. I enjoyed this novel very much and encourage readers not to miss the Author's Note at the back that covers true stories of survival in Poland's forests.

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