A Thunderous Whisper
By Christina Diaz Gonzalez
Knopf • 2012 • 304 pages
Ages 10 and up
With this new book, the author of The Red Umbrella (Knopf) continues to chronicle the lives of children removed from their countries of origin for the sake of their own safety. The protagonist of this moving saga of the bombing of Guernica is 12-year-old Basque Anextu Largazabalaga. Her friends call her Ani, or they would, if she had any. As the daughter of the local sardiniera, or sardine seller, Ani is known as “Sardine Girl,” and is a laughing stock, when she is noticed at all. Her invisibility is a saving grace, as it allows her to retreat into a self-made world of stories, in which her beloved father comes back safe from the battlefront of the Spanish Civil War, and her brutal mother actually loves her.
Ani’s life changes entirely when she meets Mathias, a refugee from Berlin, half Basque and half German, who enlists her help in a spying operation that attempts to prevent Franco from becoming the leader of Spain. Ani is inspired by the boy’s belief that he can make a difference, and overcomes her shyness and fear of her mother to work with Mathias. The spy ring, however, is sold out, and before Mathias and his family can flee, Guernica is bombed by German planes. Homeless, with her mother dead and father missing, Ani finds herself staying with a local farm family, tending children who are also bereft of their parents. But the novel—and the war—have even more changes in store for Ani.
If there’s one drawback to this historical novel, it is that the wind-up is far too long. Three-quarters of the book precede the bombing, and while it allows for great scene setting and a lot of background information on Spanish-Basque relations, the long exposition may lose younger readers. For upper-grade school kids, a further explanation of the events surrounding the story and talking about Ani’s situation will deepen interest—and may even get kids to talk about their own feelings of isolation and experiences with bullies at school. Although it’s sad that Ani’s experiences are ultimately dire, this does not erase the potential to find some common ground with today’s 5th-9th graders.
—Reviewed by Ann Welton, Library Media Specialist, Helen B. Stafford Elementary, Tacoma, WA