I started this blog with just one firm rule: fiction only.
But when I began to compile a list of some of the books I intended to read and review, Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl somehow made its way onto my list…and stayed there.
It seemed like such a good idea at the time. But as 1947 loomed closer, I remembered why I hadn’t read The Diary of a Young Girl earlier in my life…
The truth is, I’ve always been a little afraid of this book. When I was thirteen, my English class spent practically the entire year reading about World War Two. I found the whole thing horrifying…yet so distant.
I was eager to please in my early teens. When my English teacher recommended I read The Diary of a Young Girl, I immediately went to the library and tracked it down. From the cover of the book, a smiling girl with dark hair, big eyebrows and kind eyes looked back at me.
Looking at Anne’s face, the Holocaust suddenly became terrifyingly real. It happened. And it didn’t spare thirteen-year-old girls like me.
Suddenly overwhelmed, I frantically stuffed the book back onto the library shelf, where it remained for the rest of my time in high school, unread.
I don’t think it really matters whether you’re thirteen or thirty-three when you read The Diary of a Young Girl: this book will smash your heart into pieces.
The Diary of a Young Girl
by Anne Frank
Published in 1947
There are so many reasons why Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl is one of the most harrowing books you’ll ever read. For me, the worst thing about reading Anne’s diary was the knowledge that, with every page I turned, I was moving a little closer to the ending – and the chilling Afterword that I knew would follow. How tempted I was to simply stop reading halfway through, as if that could somehow keep Anne and her family alive – in my thoughts, at least.
On the 12th of June, 1942 – her thirteenth birthday – Anne Frank began the diary that was to document over two years of her life. Her initial entries describe her classmates, her various male “admirers” and her life as a German Jew in the Netherlands.
Only a few weeks after her birthday, Anne and her family, along with another family, the van Danns, hide themselves away in a secret, two-storey apartment above Mr. Frank’s workplace.
As the months and years pass in captivity, Anne keeps writing. She writes about her daily life in the “secret annexe”, her hopes for the future – and her feelings for Peter van Dann, as slowly, awkwardly, the two teens fall in love.
Anne’s diary ends only a few weeks after her fifteenth birthday. A three-page Afterword tells us what happens next: how SS officials storm the building in which Anne, her family and the van Danns were hiding. A series of short, brutal paragraphs tell a sad tale of concentration camps, disease, starvation and death.
Anne writes her diary as a series of letters to an imaginary friend she calls Kitty. In reading Anne’s diary, we, the reader, step into the role of Kitty. We become the friend Anne so desperately needs. I couldn’t help but form a bond with Anne within moments of starting to read her diary.
Like any teenager, Anne complains that her parents don’t understand her. She’s jealous of Margot, her “perfect” older sister. She adores her father, but feels disappointed by her distant mother. She daydreams about a boy she used to love. But while Anne is just like any ordinary girl, there’s something about her that is anything but ordinary.
Anne’s chatty, effervescent voice is so unrelentingly optimistic. Even when she’s writing about the heights of her fear of the depths of her sadness – she never, not even for a moment, gives in to despair. Through everything, she just keeps writing:
“I don’t have much in the way of money or worldly possessions. I’m not beautiful, intelligent or clever, but I’m happy, and I intend to stay that way! I was born happy, I love people, I have a trusting nature, and I’d like everyone else to be happy too.
Your devoted friend, Anne M. Frank” (p. 237)
There’s something a little eerie about reading a teenage girl’s diary. As frank as her name implies, Anne writes without reservation about her rudimentary playground sex education, her own developing body and getting her period for the first time. Watching as Anne describes her first kiss feels a little voyeuristic…but Anne writes with such an amazing eloquence, you soon forget your awkwardness.
Anne writes with a simple, graceful beauty. Her words resonate with honest charm. As she grows older, you can watch her writing style evolve. It’s something truly lovely. Towards the end of her diary, she admits her secret ambition – to one day be a journalist or a writer:
“Unless you write yourself, you can’t know how wonderful it is (…) if I don’t have the talent to write books or newspaper articles, I can always write for myself. But I want to achieve more than that. I can’t imagine having to live like Mother, Mrs van Dann and all the women who go about their work and are then forgotten. I need to have something besides a husband and children to devote myself to! I don’t want to have lived in vain like most people. (…) I want to go on living even after my death!” (p. 248)
Anne’s wish came eerily true – nearly fifty years after she started her diary, her words live on. Anne didn’t live in vain – she left the world with a remarkable book; a record of her beautiful life.
My high school library shelved The Diary of a Young Girl in the fiction section. In an ideal world, that’s where it would rightfully belong.
(Rating this book seems somehow distasteful, so I’m going to skip the usual rating system just for this week)
Should you read it?
Everyone should read The Diary of a Young Girl. Maybe it would make the world a more understanding place?