Annexed by Sharon Dogar
HMH, October 4, 2010
Recently there has been a small flurry of articles (like this New York Times piece) about Sharon Dogar's upcoming novel for teens, Annexed. Some people are scandalized by the book's sexual content (though by the standards of many, many other teen novels, this one is quite tame), while some are upset that it portrays a real historical figure (though it's hardly uncommon for novels to fictionalize the lives of real people). The reason that Annexed is drawing an unusual amount of fire is that the person it dares to fictionalize is Anne Frank.
Curious to see what the fuss was all about, I took the book home with me and read it over the weekend. Annexed is told from the point of view of Peter van Pels, whose family hid in the Annex along with Anne's. I dimly remembered Peter from my own reading of Anne's diary, years ago. Dogar imagines what it would have been like to be Peter—to have to hide in the Annex, of course, but also to come to know Anne and her family, and to wonder what Anne was writing about him in her diary. I found that I wanted to know more about Peter and to think about what his experience of the Annex might have been.
As for the novel's sexual aspects, it spoils very little to say that Peter and Anne only share a few brief touches and kisses. Although I don't know whether or not the real Anne and Peter ever kissed each other, I do remember that Anne wrote about gradually developing feelings for Peter over the course of the two years they lived in the Annex together, and she also wrote about wanting to grow up, wanting to menstruate and to fall in love and to become a woman. Anne Frank was an adolescent girl, a young woman, and I can readily believe that she could have shared the kind of experiences with Peter that Dogar describes.
Dogar says she tried to stick as closely as she could to events that actually happened and were recorded in Anne's diary, such as the following scene, which takes place shortly after Peter's family arrives in the Annex:
I want to stretch out my arms and knock the walls down. I want to run so far and fast that I remember what it's like to feel my breath burn in my body. I want to move. I want to live. I want to . . .
I whistle. I whistle so loud that I imagine the whole of Holland could hear me. I'm a Jew. I'm a Jew! And I'm right here in the middle of Amsterdam. Hiding. See me! I take a big, deep breath and shout as loud as I can down the chimney.
"I won't come down!"
What do you think of Dogar's decision to write about Anne Frank? What are you reading today?