Thursday, June 14, 2012


Puppet by Eva Wiseman is a young adult novel based on actual events and a real trial.  In a small Hungarian village in 1882, 14-year-old Julie's friend Esther goes missing.  She was last seen when on an errand for her cruel mistress, and blame is quick to be placed on the community's Jewish population.  Fear and hatred run wild as accusations are made:  it is believed that some of the Jewish men lured Esther into the synagogue and murdered her, slitting her throat and collecting her blood to be used in a Passover ritual.  This awful lie was firmly believed, and is known as the Blood Libel.  The accusations are taken very seriously, and some of the Jews are arrested.  Among them, two children, the Scharf brothers.  Sam is too young to be taken seriously as a material witness in court, so pressure is placed on his older brother Morris to confess (I'm sure you can guess the physical nature of this pressure) and he is coached to testify against the accused.

Julie is swept up in the arrests and the trial when she is sent by her abusive father to work as housekeeper at the jail, then is given a position as the scullery maid at the prison in the city.  She used to play with Morris as a child, and she isn't so sure the Jews are as evil and murderous as everyone says they are; but if they didn't kill her friend, what did happen to Esther?  As the trial progresses, Julie is pulled in deeper, and must make a choice between doing what she feels is right and doing what is safe.

When I read The Last Song by Wiseman, I was impressed with her ability to fictionalize such awful and tragic historical events in a way that is engrossing without trivializing them.  I was just as captivated with Puppet.  This book won multiple awards, and it's not hard to see why; I read the majority of this book in one night.  I've always had a sort of morbid fascination with the historical persecution of the Jewish people (you can probably blame my fifth grade teacher for assigning Lois Lowry's Number the Stars, which quickly became one of my all-time favorite books).  So for me, knowing that the events and the people in this book are very real (with the exception, I believe, of Julie and her family) really made Puppet that much more interesting, and that much more impossible to put down once I'd gotten into it.

Julie is extraordinary; her home life is terribly sad (as is her friend Esther's), and things go quickly from bad to worse for both of them.  Despite the hardships, though, Julie remains strong and self-reliant; she is one of those people who, when a problem presents itself, she finds a way to work through it towards her goal.  The inconsolable grief of Esther's family turns almost instantly to a hysteria fueled by antisemitism, and while my heart goes out to them for their loss of the young girl, it's just as sad the direction their grief took, and what it led to.  One thing I liked best about the book is the very realistic ending; Wiseman isn't going to sugarcoat anything for the sake of the novelization; there is a good side and a bad side to the outcome of the trial, and while the book itself ends mostly on the good, there is still very much a shadow of the bad that is soon to come.

While this book is marketed as juvenile fiction, I would recommend it for adult readers of historical fiction as well; I think it's safe to say that everyone is familiar on some level with the Holocaust of the second World War, but Wiseman writes of lesser-known events in Jewish history that are also significant and equally tragic, though perhaps not on as large a scale.



Tundra Books

Film Adaptations:
The Trial
(Okay, this is not an adaptation of the novel, but it is a film based on the same events and trial as the book, so they are related)

See what others are saying about it, or buy it now:
Better World Books



  1. Wow! This sounds amazing. I'm with you, when it comes to stories like this I would much rather have a realistic ending than a touchy sweet one. Awesome review. I am adding this to my TBR now. Thanks for the film recommendation too.

    1. I'm glad you've added it! I hope you enjoy it, too. The movie is old and not in English, so I'm not sure how easy it would be to find here.