“Is ‘Marcel’s Letters’ a good book for my teen?”
I heard this question from three different parents at an event last week. My answer is generally an unequivocal “no.”
Why? Two reasons:
I wrote the book with adult readers in mind. I did not sugar-coat content. Readers will find the f-word, and references to rape and the atrocities of the Holocaust. In one of his letters, Marcel describes prisoners who had been burned alive because they had been locked inside a barrack during an air raid. I felt it was important to include the unvarnished truth of this story—even if that meant content would not appeal to all readers. Even if that meant content was not appropriate for all readers.
Secondly, if a teen reader doesn’t know much about World War II, this may not be the right “point of entry.” That is, there is only a small amount of general WWII history in the book. There is, however, quite a bit of information about French forced labor. In the totality of the war, Service du Travail Obligatoire impacted a relatively small number of people. As a result, I believe this book will make more sense for readers who already have a baseline understanding of the war.
I have also heard parents laugh at my caution. Their teens hear the f-word every single day at school, they tell me. Others have said their teens are voracious readers of WWII history and already know about the human rights violations. In that case, these young readers might gain a deeper understanding of the life and death situations an average French family faced.
For young adult readers, the book might provide inspiration; it might nudge their curiosity and show them they can do their own sleuthing. And they might be touched by this true story of hope, love, and tenacity.
The best suggestion I have is for parents is to read the book first, then decide what is right for their teen.