Summary: Before the Gestapo invade Hanna’s Soviet-occupied Ukranian shtetele, the girl spends her time exploring her village with her siblings, helping her neighbor decorate pysanky eggs, and admiring the drawings of the handsome Leon. When the Gestapo closes in, intending to make the village “free of Jews,” Hanna’s family and friends are forced to flee and hide in the forest and then into the dark caves beneath the rolling meadows. Underground, they battle sickness and starvation, fighting for their lives. When Hanna’s father disappears, it’s up to Hanna to find him and keep the rest of family and friends alive.
My Rating: 5/5 Stars
Although it’s one of my favorite genres, I didn’t pick up too many historical fiction books back in 2018. However, I am much more inspired to read more historical fiction this year, thanks to Tara Lynn Masih’s My Real Name is Hanna. Especially considering its short length of 184 pages, My Real Name is Hanna is the type of book you won’t be able to let go, during and after reading it. I highly recommend binge-reading this book over the course of a day or weekend.
Much like Ruta Sepetys’ Between Shades of Gray and Salt to the Sea, My Real Name is Hanna tells an often untold story set during World War II and the Holocaust. The book follows Hanna, a young Jewish girl living in the Ukraine, and her family as they are forced into hiding when the Gestapo raids their village. Told over the course of four years, Hanna’s life goes through transformation after transformation, from hiding in her house to a cabin in the forest to a cave.
The book begins with Hanna’s village life in Kwasova, as she takes in the beauty of the Ukranian countryside and paints pysanka (Ukranian Easter eggs) with her beloved Alla. I haven’t heard of pysanka before reading this book, and I thought it was such an interesting cultural element. Hanna’s family is also very religious, and I liked reading about their different customs. She has really strong relationships with both of her parents. Her father often relies on Hanna to keep the family safe, especially when it comes to their secret communication messages with the outside world. As I’ve also learned in Holocaust Studies classes, their faith really helps them get through the toughest of times.
It is almost unfathomable how fast things change for her family, but Tara Lynn Masih’s writing makes things all the more vivid and real. I’ve learned about Jews and other oppressed individuals being forced to hide in the woods, but this was my first time reading fiction about it. I loved how Hanna relies on Joan of Arc to get her through and helps her younger siblings and cousins by making them montaky out of their limited resources. There is much tension and fear throughout the book, as Hanna and her family worry about being caught. Being in the cave was an even more scary experience, often living in total darkness. My Real Name is Hanna truly speaks to the strength of individuals living through the Holocaust and the various extremes people had to go through to save their loved ones and their family.
Overall, My Real Name is Hanna is such an insightful and heart-breaking, yet beautiful historical fiction read that has inspired me to pick up more historical fiction this year. This book truly deserves all the hype and more.
Have you read My Real Name is Hanna? What are some of your favorite historical fiction books? Share in the comments!