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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Danger: Heavy Reading Ahead

T4 by Ann Clare LeZotte
As my daughter was picking out books at the library the other day, I happened to look over and see a pale, oppressed face on the endcap. No, it wasn't a vampire. I know, I was surprised, too. It was the cover to Ann Clare LeZotte's young adult novel, T4. Written entirely in poetic free verse, T4 is a fictional tale about a young deaf girl, Paula Becker, who must hide from the Nazi regime when Action T4 orders a death warrant for all disabled and mentally ill persons in Germany. 

While this is a super quick read -I read it in 45 minutes- and the novel fails to delve as deep into Paula's world as I had hoped, it has stayed with me all day. Every time I walk past the kitchen table, I search for it in the pile of books. As I've listened to my daughter's voice, my dad's, the refrigerator, water flowing from the tap, the sound my shoes made when I took them off, my dog's bark, I've wondered what Paula Becker's world sounds like. Because, for many hearing individuals, even when it's quiet, it isn't really quiet. We hear little brushes and shifts. And sometimes, when it's so quiet our minds refuse to accept it, noises are thrown out of our brains to make us wonder if someone forgot to turn off a distant radio. Ann Clare LeZotte has left me wondering what it sounds like to be deaf, if that makes sense. Also, being deaf herself (from birth), I wonder if that had any bearing on her choice to write T4 in poetic verse. 

Also, when an author includes a topic like Hitler and the Holocaust in her novel, the potential for it to overshadow the storyline is humongous. However, Ann Clare LeZotte makes it very clear -with little effort- that her character dominates the reader's attention. Hitler's orders are part of Paula's existence, but they are only a piece in the whole of her personal struggles. And while Ms. LeZotte mentions facts about a dark hour in Germany's history, it is not the tragedies that capture readers. It is the reminder that even a country has a beating heart. That resilience can be defined by the faces of many.

I especially enjoyed the 'Notes from the Author', where Ms. LeZotte mentions the inspirations for her characters' names as well as statistics and thanks. 

Some of my favorite quotes from T4:

- (Snared me right away.) 
"In a little house
On a street
With tall poplar trees...
That was my home.
But my country,
Was not my home."

-(This intrigues me to no end.)
"I didn't learn to speak
The way most children do.
I put my fingers on the vocal cords
Of my family.
I wanted to feel
What talking sounded like."

- (The first tear I shed while reading T4.)
"On the way home
My mother cried.
And I still wanted 
To be a regular girl
Rather than a dumb animal."

- (Beautiful imagery.)
"We were in the middle of a forest
That looked like it was made of glass.
I wondered where the butterflies went
When the world was frozen over."

- (This may stay with me forever. The smallest gestures are the biggest. And needed the most.)
"I had tucked my teddy bear
Into Paul's baby blanket
Before I left the cabin.
I always felt glad
About that later on."

Okay, I could quote the whole book, so I will stop here. I will also mention that the light romantic touch did not go unappreciated. That is all I will say about that. Don't want to spoil it for others.

T4 is something special, for many reasons.

Photo from