Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and Teen Angst
Anne Frank may well have become a successful author had her life not been cut tragically short. She is remarkably clear and effective in communicating an emotional sense of what it was like, at least from her point of view, to live an extended period in a severely restrictive environment. Anne's optimism and faith rings clear without being expressly stated. It is refreshing in that there is no hint of contrived drama or melodrama in her descriptions of everyday life suffused with internal and external stresses. This book reads as honest, direct and true as life gets.
This book is the literal diary of a Jewish teen hiding from the Nazis in Holland during World War Two. It covers the period in Anne's life from about thirteen to fifteen years old. She lives on the top floor of a warehouse with her immediate family (mother, father, and sister) as well as another family of three (the "Van Daan's" and their sixteen year old son) and an older dentist with whom she must share a room. The antics, conflicts and daily travails amidst food shortages, break-ins and a seemingly endless parade of small crises test the limits of the residents of the annex. One of the more revealing episodes involves a brief fling at romance with the sixteen-year-old son of the Van Daan's and Anne. It is a revealing look at adolescence and the process of maturity through a tightly focused lens. It is truly wrenching as you learn the fate of each of the residents. One is left with an unforgettable snapshot of humanity, its courage and its failings, in a time of deep crisis and almost unbelievable tragedy.
The Diary of Anne Frank is often taught at the middle school level. My sixth grade students expressed interest in the book, so I let them read as part of their reading curriculum. I found that while most had little trouble understanding the book (they were above average readers) they were too young to really grasp and appreciate the subtle, and sometimes not so subtle themes running through the book. They had no emotional sense of what these people's daily lives were like. There was nothing in their limited life experience to help them appreciate or understand what living in such conditions for an extended period would be like. Anne Frank would be better read at the high school level, or better yet, as a book read by choice.
A note on this edition: The Definitive edition includes much material that was excised from the original diary. Many of Anne's comments about her mother were less than flattering, and so her father (the only survivor in the book) sought to protect the memory of his wife. This is certainly understandable, but the Definitive edition more honestly reflects Anne's feelings at the time. I don't think there's too many people that would begrudge a teenager's rejection of their parents. It's only sad that she didn't live long enough to come through and see her mom through the eyes of an adult.