Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Crossover Book Review: Tamar, by Mal Peet

Usually when I write a review of a crossover book, I'm reviewing an adult book I think children ages twelve and up will like. This time, however, I am reviewing a book marketed to teens that adults will appreciate--Tamar, by Mal Peet. (Tamar won the 2005 Carnegie in the U.K.)

To be honest, I am not sure why Tamar is a Young Adult novel. Some sections of the book are narrated by a fifteen-year-old girl, but the vast majority of passages concern adult resistance workers in World War II. To miss Tamar, subtitled A Novel of Espionage, Passion, and Betrayal, because it's located in the Young Adult section is a betrayal, indeed.

Tamar opens with a conversation between a father--William Hyde--and his adult son. The son's wife is expecting and the father has an usual request: If the child is a girl, will his son please name her Tamar? The father gives no reasons for the request, but the son likes the name and agrees.

The reader then travels back in time to when the father (and soon-to-be-grandfather) is working for the British Secret Service with the Dutch Resistance in a small town in the Netherlands. He is one of two men working under assumed names: Tamar, the resistance organizer, or Dart, his code transmitter. Both men love the same woman,
Marijke, whose house serves as a base for the young resistance workers, but only Tamar has a relationship with her.* Two men in love with the same woman, fear, starvation, and a rogue resistance worker, who rebels in spectacular fashion against Tamar's command, lead to ultimate betrayal and loss for World War II-era Tamar, Dart, and Marijke.

Interspersed with accounts of Tamar, Marijke, and Dart's lives in Nazi-occupied Netherlands are passages in which modern-day Tamar, the fifteen-year-old granddaughter of "William Hyde," tries to understand why her grandfather committed suicide just months before, when already an old man. He leaves her a box of clues--clues that will lead to the truth about his past.

Tamar is a detective story and a meditation on the meaning of truth. It's a great novel for children, sure, but it's also an important story for adult readers as well. And, good news: A little research tells me the paperback edition is out in the U.S. on September 9.
* Yes, Tamar is biologically young Tamar's grandfather. The question is, who was William Hyde, the grandfather Tamar knew and loved in 1990s England.