Reviewed by Deborah Shatz
(EJNews) – In 1939, facing a Nazi invasion, the British government ordered the evacuation of 500,000 young people from London to the English countryside. “Facing the Shards,” is the story of nine-year-old Joy and her sister Vivienne, who were among those young people who became foster children, evacuated from their loving parents, their home, their family and friends.
Joy and her family were Jewish and they lived a fairly assimilated lifestyle in London, after having experienced several narrow-minded anti-Semitic interactions in the countryside. Just as they were settling into life in London, the children were forced to evacuate. Joy and Vivienne embarked on a frightening journey back to the countryside that would last several years before they were to return to the loving arms of their family.
“Facing the Shards,” is the recently published memoir of Joy Ruth Mickelson, an adjunct Assistant Professor at the University of Alberta. She takes the reader back to this life-altering time and relives some of the experiences – both kind and cruel – that she traversed as a Jewish foster child during the war years.
“Facing the Shards” – written in the voice of Joy Ruth, tells a coming of age story about a young girl first separated from her parents and then from her sister, living among strangers who have no understanding of her upbringing or religion. Days turned into weeks, turned into three long years for Joy as a foster child. She was moved around from home to home, grudgingly dumped by a billeting officer, with each new home bringing a sense of fear and trepidation. These foster years brought her face to face with a myriad of experiences including a brush with death, grave illness, extraordinary kindness, blatant ignorance and flagrant cruelty.
Life did not stand still for her parents in London, nor for her sister, who faced even worse foster situations than Joy. When Joy returned home in 1943 she was not the same young girl that had left; she was weathered by her time away and scarred by war time experiences.
In this, her second novel, eighty-seven-year-old Joy Ruth Mickelson presents an easy to read memoir, sharing some of her most intimate experiences with the reader. Her narrative depicts her love for her parents, her sister and family members and describes the interactions she had with many individuals along the journey. Her descriptions are vivid so the reader can feel the fear, the agony, the joy and the hesitations that she felt as a youngster forced to accommodate the lifestyles of others and compromise her own values in an effort to keep a roof over her head.
“Facing the Shards” is a must-read for young adults and older readers interested in learning about the effects that the war years had on youths and families. It belongs in all Junior High Schools and High Schools and public libraries across Canada, the United States and the UK. It tells the story of young people forced to grow up quickly in difficult times, faced with challenging circumstances. It also tells a story about parents who made decisions that they felt would protect their children only to have them face different perils.
Joy Ruth Mickelson lived through an horrific time in history but her strong family bonds and Jewish upbringing gave her and her sister a resilience to get through the difficult times. Her book should serve as a catalyst for thought provoking discussions in classrooms and book clubs about how we view immigrants and how we treat people who come from backgrounds that are different from our own.
Mickelson is a poet and author of non-fiction and narrative research, a member of the Canadian Authors Association, the Writers Guild of Alberta and the Stroll of Poets Society. She and her husband Ed raised their family in Edmonton and are long time active members of Edmonton’s Jewish community.
“Facing the Shards” (ISBN 10: 0989163474) is available at Audrey’s Bookstore in Edmonton and online on kindle and in paperback at Amazon.ca. There will be a special presentation of Joy-Ruth’s book on November 24th, 2016 at noon at The Jewish Senior’s Drop-In Centre, 10052-117 Street in Edmonton.