The Blood Years | Elana K. Arnold


The Blood Years by Elana K. Arnold 

Coming October 10th, 2023 from Balzer + Bray; 400 pages

Content warnings: Antisemitism, racial slurs, graphic violence, depictions of the Holocaust, slurs, rape, death, torture, parental abandonment, grief, pedophilia, strong language

About the Author: “Elana K. Arnold is the author of critically acclaimed and award-winning young adult novels and children’s books, including the Printz Honor winner Damsel, the National Book Award finalist What Girls Are Made Of, and Global Read Aloud selection A Boy Called Bat and its sequels. Several of her books are Junior Library Guild selections and have appeared on many best book lists, including the Amelia Bloomer Project, a catalog of feminist titles for young readers. Elana teaches in Hamline University’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program and lives in Southern California with her family and menagerie of pets” (Bio from author’s website).

Find Elana K. Arnold on the following platforms:

“It is because of our capacity to love. It is because we can love more persistently than they can hate. Scripture tells us, ‘Olam chesed yibanei. I will build this world with love.’ That is what we are here to do, my girl. To build, with love.”

Fourteen-year-old Frederieke “Rieke” Teitler and her sister Astra live in a divided Czernowitz. After their father abandoned them years ago, their grandfather becomes their anchor, protecting them from growing antisemitism while their heartbroken mother withers away in her room. But as hostility against Jewish people intensifies, Rieke’s world shatters. Romance, previously forsworn by Astra, pulls her away from Rieke, and the once seemingly far-off war engulfs Romania. With Russians and Germans invading their city, every day becomes a battle to retain their home, business, and lives. Amidst the war, Rieke fights her own battles: she must decide whether the cost she must pay to keep her family safe is too high and face emotional decisions about holding on or letting go. Inspired by true events from her grandmother’s life in Romania, Elana K. Arnold paints a poignant tale of survival, love, and loss during the Holocaust.

When we think of the Holocaust and World War II, countries like Germany, Austria, and Poland immediately come to mind, but those were not the only places deeply affected by antisemitism. Arnold remembers Holocaust-era Romania through the eyes of a teen girl, making an already harrowing story all the more heartbreaking. We follow Rieke as war encroaches on her beloved city, and as antisemitism slowly seeps, like a poison, into her everyday life. With books centering around a historical atrocity, the worst part is knowing how it ends and watching the inevitable descent into tragedy. The Blood Years is no exception, as Arnold captures the horrors of how hate enveloped Europe and brutalized Jewish people. Yet, there are moments of love—Rieke and Conrad holding hands in the dark of night, Opa (the sisters’ grandfather) teaching Rieke his jeweler trade, Astra and Rieke always coming back to each other, no matter what. Even though I never ended up liking Astra (maybe, as a fellow eldest sister, her personality was just too similar to mine), I think her and Rieke’s relationship was the best part of the book. They hurt each other as only sisters can, vicious and unsparing, but they still hold so much love for each other. Only a sister can hurt you and save you at the same time. By focusing on the intimate details of their characters’ relationships, Arnold explores grief and memory by revealing the inextricable connection between love and pain. This carefully crafted story is their testimonial to the importance of never forgetting history and remembering those who have been lost. 

The Blood Years releases on October 10th, 2023.

Pine Reads Review would like to thank SparkPoint Studio, Balzer + Bray, and NetGalley for sending us a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Any quotes are taken from an advanced copy and may be subject to change before final publication.

Aruna Sreenivasan, Pine Reads Review Assistant Director