Title: Heroes of the Secret Underground
Author: Susanne Gervay
Genre: Historical Fiction, time slip
Publisher: HarperCollins Australia
Published: 7th April 2021
Synopsis: A timely and powerful time-slip story inspired by the author’s family in Budapest during the Holocaust
Louie lives with her brothers, Bert and Teddy, in a hotel run by their grandparents. It is one of Sydney’s grand old buildings, rich in history … and in secrets.
When a rose-gold locket, once thought lost, is uncovered, it sends Louie and her brothers spinning back in time. Back to a world at war: Budapest in the winter of 1944, where their grandparents are hiding secrets of their own …
From bestselling author Susanne Gervay comes a heart-racing timeslip story inspired by her own family’s escape from Budapest during the Holocaust.
There have been many stories of the Holocaust – it is one of the greatest human tragedies that we have seen in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. As with many tragedies like war, famine, pandemics, riots – there are many people, in the instance of the Holocaust – millions – affected. And each European nation that had their own experience between 1939 and 1945 within the wider Holocaust. Each family had their own experiences of separation and loss, and each family and person would have dealt with this differently. The Hungarian experience and that of Susanne’s family as Hungarian refugees firms the basis and inspiration for Heroes of the Secret Underground.
In the year 2000, Louie and her brothers are at home in the hotel they live in with their family. Mum and Dad are away, so Grandma and Pa are looking after them. Louie is out one day when she funds a rose-gold locket, and is pulled back in time with her brothers, Bert and Teddy. They land in Budapest in 1944, and are quickly thrust into a world of Nazism, the Holocaust, and meet those who are doing all they can to save as many children as they can. Yet as they start to find out more about their grandparents – whom they meet as young children, the Nazis encroach upon their lives, and the three children must work to save themselves and get home, but also, help Naomi free herself from the time loop she’s stuck in, and confront the secrets that their family has hidden for many, many years.
Holocaust stories are always going to be ones that go around, and the more that come out, the more I feel we learn more about what happened, and more about the other groups affected, as well as the countries that were impacted the most. We often hear about Poland, Germany and Austria – yet so many more nations, particularly in Eastern Europe were affected, and it is #OwnVoices stories like Susanne’s that are especially powerful, as there is a family story linked to it that gives the story a sense of gravitas and humanity and evokes a sense of deepened reality. Like many stories, Heroes of the Secret Underground gives a human face to the Holocaust – the victims, the heroes, those left behind, and the intergenerational trauma that filters through. It is about secrets – those we keep protecting the people we care about and those we keep to protect ourselves or hide from our past. The fear that Susanne’s characters feel leaps off the page, and her intricate research into Budapest in 1944 and Nazi officials such as Eichmann, as well as various symbols of peace creates a story that is about unity, peace and acceptance. It is about family and friendship and making sacrifices and doing what we can in times of great upheaval and tragedy for others even if it means putting one’s own life at risk.
Susanne approached me to review this months ago, and I loved this book, and its message. It pulled so much complexity together in an easy to read way for middle grade readers, and another good introduction to the Holocaust for this age group.