Who Are You, Trudy Herman – Review

“Yet, if we trace back far enough, aren’t we all related — all deserving of equal justice?”

Trudy Herman was a normal American girl when the War hit. Her parents came from Germany, but she was born and raised in America. She couldn’t imagine her home turning against her. But, in 1943, Trudy and her family were sent by train, to Texas, miles away from their home, to live in a German American Internment camp.

There, she meets Ruth, an older woman who’s belief in the system and in justice, teaches her through stories about the brave Paladins, knights of Charlemange who fought for truth and justice. Every day in the camp, Trudy tries to be a Paladin. She tries to be brave and strong, but she often feels lost and helpless.

After they are released, her family finds themselves living in Mississippi, and once again, Trudy is faced with discrimination and injustice. She must decide if she’ll turn the other way, or if she can finally be the brave Paladin both her grandfather and Ruth believed her to be.

“I won’t tell others, Trudy. But be careful. People here are unforgiving. They hold tight to their beliefs and prejudices.”

I think the most important thing for a reader to know going into this book, is that this is aimed for the younger end of the YA spectrum. My review is going to be focused on this book for a younger reader, or for a parent of a younger reader, as I believe that is the intended audience for this book.

Who Are You, Trudy Herman takes us through the eyes of a young girl, who within a short amount of time gets her world disrupted in profound ways. Her father is accused of a crime, though we never learn what. Afterwards, her life begins to get smaller and smaller. Her friends ignore her. Her teachers ignore her. Her mother loses music students. And then, they are told to report to a train station to live closer to where her father had been taken.

“My friends and classmates had forgotten I existed. They no longer saw me. Miss Pruitt didn’t call on me even with my hand raised. She returned my homework unmarked.”

For an older reader, not knowing the details of what exactly was happening could be frustrating. But, it’s important to remember that Trudy is simply an eleven year old girl. She is getting her information from her mother, who obviously would try and minimize the trauma, and from what she can overhear. The point isn’t the details, it’s in the experience, and Beck captures this vividly. We feel Trudy’s fear, her confusion, her unease through every step.

Eventually her father is released to the camp, and they attempt to live as a family again, albeit behind barbed wire. This isn’t a book about life in the camp, as much as this is about Trudy’s growth as a teenager. She describes life in the camp, but not in great detail. It is more the feeling of the camp. How her mother painted the barbed wire fence. The hate and disgust in the guards eyes. These are things that would stick out to a child, so again, I felt that Beck did a good job in capturing the essence as a child would experience them.

“The compound was surrounded by a barbed-wire fence, guard towers, and searchlights. This was our new world? Fear filled my body until I could hardly breathe.”

After they are released, the family eventually relocates to Mississippi. This is where the second half of the novel takes place. It is here where Trudy wants to finally leave the trauma of the camp behind and finally be a normal teenage girl. But she quickly finds, that even here, while the hate isn’t directed at her anymore, there is still hate in the world.

Her experience with racism unfolds slowly. Every time she is told that’s they way things are, or told to stay quiet, Trudy is faced with the choice over who she wants to be. Her growth takes place over this portion of the novel, where she struggles with whether she wants to live an easier life, or to be brave, like the Paladin knights.

“Each action is a choice. And remember, Trudy, your life is built on those choices.”

For a reader in their early teens, or even a mature younger reader, this book is filled with great messaging on how to face bullies, trauma, friendships, loss, and change. I would urge parents to read it, as there is difficult subject matter, not just with the internment camp and racism, but there is a scene involving an attempted rape that is alarming. It isn’t graphic, however, parents should be aware of the scene since it is traumatic.

In all, this is an excellent book for a more mature classroom, especially since Trudy goes through a spectrum of emotion in how to deal with difficult choices. Trudy doesn’t always make the right choice, or handle situations well. She is often confused over what she sees and feels. I think this is all very realistic given both her age and history, and I think that many young readers will relate. The ending is quite powerful and opens the door for some fantastic conversation on how preteen readers can handle difficult situations.

This book doesn’t go into a great amount of detail on the war, or internment camps, or the Civil Rights Movement, but it does present the opportunity for discussion and teaching, which I think is fantastic in a book.

Again, this is aimed for a younger YA reader, and someone looking for a more immersive experience may find it lacking in the depth and detail an older YA book would provide. However, for a parent or teacher, looking for a book to read with their preteens and students, I think this book is excellent in content and learning opportunities.

Thank you BookSparks for sending as part of their #readbythesea2018 #yasummerreads program.

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