Review: Once by Morris Gleitzman


Blurb: Everybody deserves to have something good in their life. At least once. Once I escaped from an orphanage to find Mum and Dad. Once I saved a girl called Zelda from a burning house. Once I made a Nazi with toothache laugh. My name is Felix. This is my story.

Title: Once

Author: Morris Gleitzman

Publisher: Puffin Books, owned by Penguin Group

Genre: Fiction, Children’s, Historical


Before I’d even finished this book, I just knew that I had to give it a 5-star review. It was so well written and the author was successfully able to show how naivety and innocence cannot last in such an awful environment.

This book follows a little boy, Felix (who happens to be a Polish Jew) on his journey to find his parents in Nazi-occupied Poland. Starting off in an orphanage where he sees Nazis burning books, Felix decides that he must set off to find his parents (Polish booksellers who left him at the orphanage three years before) to save their books. Along the way, he encounters many things that children should never have to face, let alone understand, and is forced to take on more responsibility than is typical of someone that age. This heart-wrenching story really plays on your emotions to create a picture of what life was like for people being persecuted at this time in history.

There is so much that I loved about this book. Felix was such a well-written character and we follow his point of view throughout the book, meaning that we are able to follow his growing understanding of the world around him and his loss of naivety which really tugged on my heartstrings. My heart ached for other characters in the story as well. For Zelda and everything she lost, for Barney and his desperate need to protect the children, and for the kids themselves and the things they’d seen while everything remained out of their control. Being lost in a world that you no longer recognise cannot be an easy thing to come to terms with, nor can it be easy to find a place in that new world when you are being victimised and persecuted. As well as that, I find the era that this story is set in to be so important. The Holocaust isn’t something that people like to talk about but if we don’t read about it, or learn about it, we risk forgetting it and the events that led up to this horrendous time. As someone who has studied this period of history in a fair amount of detail, being able to connect the events in the story to the real historical timeline only added to the connection I felt with this book – although I have never (and hope I never will) experienced something like this, by learning about it you are able to visualise something similar to what was happening. My attachment to these characters only grew as the plot advanced, moving me to tears at several points, most specifically at the end of the final chapter. I appreciate that this book was based on truthful events and the accounts of other people who experienced the same things, and I appreciate that the author really did his research – reading many diaries and letters from the time (as explained in the author’s note at the back of the book) in an attempt to reveal to the world a more personal feeling account of how people’s lives changed and the suffering that they experienced.

More practically, this book isn’t very long so can be a fairly quick read depending on your reading speed and may also be useful if you find that reading shorter books helps to get over a reading slump. The plot advances fairly quickly so we don’t spend a lot of time, in the beginning, waiting for the action to start – this may have been a technique employed by the author to give a feel to how fast these events actually escalated. The font size isn’t too small either which would be helpful for anyone who finds tiny prints difficult to read.

As for what I disliked, I genuinely can’t think of anything. There isn’t anything that I’d change about this book or the way that it was written. It hooked me so much that I’m desperate to read the other books in this series to find out what happens to Felix and what situations he finds himself in next. I could say that some of the chapters were hard to read due to the subject matter but if they had been left out, the story wouldn’t be as true to history.

Overall, words can’t explain how much I would recommend this book. I feel like this era of our world history is so so important for everyone to have an understanding of and (if you’re not really a fan of non-fiction) this book is certain to give you a look into how people were feeling at a time of such intense persecution. It may make you cry at times, it may make you smile at times but it will definitely make you think – and I think that’s crucial.

Rating: 5/5

Recommend?: Yes!!!

Have you read this book? What did you think? Have you read any of the books that come after this one? I’d love to know!

You can always find me over on Instagram and Twitter if you’d like to discuss this book (or any others that I’ve featured) in more detail 😌

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19 thoughts on “Review: Once by Morris Gleitzman

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