The Length of a String by Elissa Brent Weissman

‘Grandma Anna had left me her books. It was as though she wanted me to find this, to read it at this exact moment in my life. It felt like she had written it precisely for me.’

Imani lives with her adopted family. She loves her family and her Jewish community but has always wondered where she came from, especially as she is the only black person in her mostly white community. Imani’s bat mitzvah is coming up, and while her friends are asking for extravagant gifts, Imani wants one thing she isn’t sure her parents are prepared for. She wants to know about her birth parents. When her great-grandma dies Imani inherits her books and amongst these she discovers Anna’s journal from when she was Imani’s age. Imani finds herself engrossed in Anna’s story. It’s a story of a girl who left her only family behind in Nazi occupied Luxembourg to start a new life with a new family in New York. Anna writes to her sister in her journal, telling her about life in New York, not knowing what is happening to her family back home. The more that Imani reads about Anna the more she feels connected to her. When Anna’s journal ends abruptly Imani knows she has to discover the truth. Imani also wants to know where she came from and why her birth parents gave her up, but it will mean hurting the family who raised her.

The Length of a String is a story of family, identity and connections that takes you on an emotional journey. Like Imani, who reads her great-grandma’s journal every chance she gets, you want to keep coming back to the story to learn more about the characters. The story highlights the plight of Jews during the Second World War while not explicitly giving details. We know what happens to Anna’s family while Anna can’t get any news about what is happening back home. Jewish culture is an important part of the story and I certainly know more about it from reading this story. I did have to look up the difference between bat mitzvah and bar mitzvah (the former is the coming of age ritual for girls and the later for boys).

This is a story about connections and Elissa makes you feel intimately connected to her characters. Both Anna and Imani talk about the strings that connect them, whether this is the feeling of a string connecting Anna and Belle (the twins who are thousands of miles away) or the strings of DNA that intertwine and connect Imani to her birth parents. It is also a story of identity as Imani is trying to figure out who she is and where she comes from.

I loved the way that Elissa pulled all of the threads of the story together at the end. Anna and Imani’s lives become intertwined throughout the story and Imani’s research leads to a discovery that strengthens her connection to her adopted family.

The Length of a String is a great read for ages 11+, especially those who like family stories or stories with strong characters. I was really interested in the Holocaust when I was about 14 and this is a book I would have devoured.

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