Knowing who you are

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At 12 years old, I was a plaid skirt-wearing, flute-playing bookworm trying to maintain good grades while pining away for the same boy I'd had a crush on since the first grade. All in all, not a bad way to spend the tween years.

The author of today's book (a reprint from 2001), Disguised: A Wartime Memoir (Candlewick Press, 366 pages, $17.99), spent years 12, 13 and 14 living in a prisoner of war camp in Sumatra during World War II...


Rita la Fontaine de Clercq Zubli — her exotic and regal-sounding name is the reason I picked the book — not only endured life as a POW, she did it disguised as a boy. Her family had the foresight to cut her hair and dress her in boy's clothing to keep the Japanese soldiers from forcing her to become a "comfort woman."

So Rita became Rick, and spent her time wisely, working hard and learning how to speak Japanese, which was beneficial to her fellow prisoners and to her captors. And she seemed to come out of it with hope and love still in her heart.

"The Japanese people in this book are as the war made them," Rita writes in the book's preface. "And the same is true of the rest of us. A story of war is always a story of hate; it makes no difference with whom one fights."

Note: Disguised is laid out in short, easy-to-read chapters and would be appropriate for young adult readers.

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At 12, my crush had only lasted for three years, my clothes were awful, and my cornet-playing days had already been stopped by an injury from a car accident. I thought things sucked.
When my mother pushed "Night" by Elie Wiesel into my hands when I was 14, I learned differently. Books of this genre have fascinated me ever since.
The incredible strength of people, especially kids, is an unending inspiration. Just when I think my childhood was a nightmare, books like this come along to teach me otherwise.
Obviously, the author, like Wiesel, survived, and, despite the oppression of their horrors, used that very tenacity to allow us a window into survival. There can never be enough of these lessons, they are far too easy to ignore, and even easier to forget, dooming us to repetition.

History is probably 50% fiction. I wonder what percent of "Disguised" rates as fact. A girl of 14 or 15 years and no one can tell she is a girl pretending to be a boy! Give me a break, a blind man would know she was a girl.

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