In May 1939, fifteen-year-old Thomas along with over 900 Jews began their voyage from Nazi Germany to Cuba. Thomas must go on this voyage alone because his family can only afford one ticket. His father is imprisoned in Dachau, while his mother will be safe because she is Christian. In Cuba, Thomas will meet up with his half-brother. On the SS St. Francis, Thomas meets Priska, a fourteen-year-old girl who is traveling with her parents and younger sister. When he is not spending time with Priska and other kids, Thomas spends time playing chess. However soon, Thomas becomes suspicious of some of the crew members. Why would Nazi members treat Jews so well?
The Other Half of Life is based on the true story of the MS St. Louis. Before I read this novel, I had never heard of the MS St. Louis. I guess the magnititude of the other events of WWII make this story seem too insignificant to mention. Anyways, I really enjoyed The Other Half of Life. Whitney really did her research! At the end of the novel, there is also a bibliography. It’s always harder to find information on little-known events, but the amount of information in this novel was great. The amount of facts, however, did not make the novel seem like textbook either. While reading this book, I felt transported to another time.
The characters were also great. I really enjoyed the differences between Thomas and Priska. Thomas knows everything in the world cannot be trusted. Priska, on the other hand, has a carefree, optimistic point of view. The novel also included chess. I know how to play chess, but I am not a great player. Reading about Thomas’s chess strategies was interesting. The only thing I did not like about The Other Half of Life was the epilogue. The book really did need an epilogue, but it just seemed kind of out-of-place. The feeling I got after reading the epilogue reminded me very much of the feeling I got after reading the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, if you know what I mean.
Still, The Other Half of Life is a good novel. Below I have a quote by Elie Wiesel, which is featured on the front cover.
The Other Half of Life is an excellent introduction for young readers wishing to understand contemporary history and its traumatic and moral challenges.