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If I Should Die Before I Wake

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About the Author

HAN NOLAN has won many awards for her teen fiction, including the National Book Award for Dancing on the Edge. She lives in New England.


Few novels can match this effort for its stupefying lack of taste. Teenager Hilary, who has never recovered from the long-ago death of her father and from her Bible-thumping mother's temporary abandonment of her, lies in a coma, the victim of her own adventures with her neo-Nazi pals. Suddenly she ``slips'' into another life--that of a Jewish girl in Poland at the beginning of the Nazi occupation. It turns out that she is sharing the memories of her hospital roommate, whose telepathic communications eventually bring about Hilary's salvation. Gratuitously lurid subplots involve teenage American neo-Nazi depredations and the torture of Hilary's young Jewish neighbor; the Holocaust flashbacks feature a psychic grandmother. Passages about Nazi ghettos and concentration camps seem cobbled together from survivors' memoirs (noticeably, Kitty Hart's several autobiographies and Fania Fenelon's Playing for Time ), while the overall conceit owes a major debt to Jane Yolen's The Devil's Arithmetic. Any hope that the author will redeem this misbegotten first novel is quickly quashed by her unrelievedly airless prose. Ages 12-up. (Mar.)

Gr 7-12-Hilary Burke, a young Neo-Nazi, is in a coma after a motorcycle accident. Ironically, she has been taken to a Jewish hospital and shares a room with elderly Chana, an Auschwitz survivor. Instrumental in the kidnapping of her 13-year-old Jewish neighbor, Hilary hates all Jews and believes one caused her father's death. Through Chana's memories, the girl is transported back to World War II, experiencing for herself the horrors suffered by Polish Jews just trying to survive, first in the Lodz ghetto, then in the concentration camp. While the subject matter is certainly compelling, this first novel is not as powerful as Jane Yolen's The Devil's Arithmetic (Viking, 1988) or as chilling as Jay Bennett's Skinhead (Watts, 1991). Nolan does a better job of portraying Chana than Hilary or her Bible-quoting mother, but Mrs. Burke's dysfunctional personality and Hilary's problems with her are clear. Interspersed are Biblical passages that are sometimes appropriate to the text, but often unnecessary and distracting. The ending is predictable and soppy: Chana dies leaving an album full of family photos to Hilary. Stick to the numerous, excellent-quality, existing examples of Holocaust literature.-Jo-Anne Weinberg, Greenburgh Public Library, NY

"Bold . . . deeply felt and often compelling."--Kirkus Reviews "Brilliantly rendered."--Booklist "Page-turning."--VOYA "Bold . . . deeply felt and often compelling."--"Kirkus Reviews" "Brilliantly rendered."--"Booklist" "Page-turning."--"VOYA"

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