One by one they disappear by Mike Lucas

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South Australian author Mike Lucas, whose first YA novel What We all Saw was shortlisted for the Readings Book Prize 2022, CBCA Book of the Year Award 2023, and the Prime Minister’s Literary Award 2023, has again written an outstanding story. The complex plot with stories within stories, the powerful setting, the vast array of strong characters - both good and evil - are all carefully constructed to provide readers with an absorbing narrative.

The story begins in 1811 with the Brothers Grimm travelling the land to collect stories from the oldest storytellers. It is in the telling of some of these quite dark and cruel stories that the magic and mystery becomes apparent. When the youngest of the three Grimm brothers goes missing, with his two older brothers having no memory of him, the seed has been skilfully sown for what takes place throughout One By One They Disappear.  

The next few chapters alternate between 1938 to 1942, where young Hannah Ginsberg and her parents are subjected to the growing hatred of the Jewish Race. Forced into hiding in Stuttgart 1941 with the Meyers, a brave non-Jewish family, Hannah and her parents spend almost a year in dark, damp basement. When Stuttgart is bombed by the allies in 1942, Hannah finds herself recovering in hospital alone, with her only possession a book of Grimms Tales with the name Sofia written inside. In order to escape and survive she now must become Sofia and with help from some courageous adults she is taken high into the mountains to the only living relative of the Meyer family. Maud Meyer is austere and somewhat cold, not fond of children but accepts her duty to provide a home in her lodge for her niece Sofia. However, Maud hides deep secrets and is instrumental in keeping Hannah safe.

In the peaceful village Hannah now lives, all is not as it first appears. In the face of growing danger, the friendship between Hannah, Josef and Elias is central to the story as is the huge castle that towers over the village - now home to German soldiers as well as the dreaded SS. Children are disappearing with adults having no memory of them except Heinz Schundel who has drawn images of all the children. Early on in the story Hannah discovers she has a rare ability to leave her body and travel to places and situations to observe from above. Here she gains valuable knowledge of impending events which help her and trusted adults to change the expected outcome.

The devastation and cruelty by Nazi Germany depicted in World War Two is cleverly intertwined around Grimm's fairytales which Hannah realises early on are not really suitable for children. There are strong parallels between the actions of the Nazis and what takes place in some of the tales.

One By One They Disappear is a compelling read with a hint of fantasy that would make an excellent class novel for those year levels studying World War Two.

Themes: Magic, Memories, Fairy Tales, World War Two, Tragedy, Friendship, Betrayal, Trust, Missing Children, Fantasy, Bravery.

Kathryn Beilby