BookBrowse Reviews Tamar by Mal Peet

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Tamar

A Novel of Espionage, Passion, and Betrayal

by Mal Peet

Tamar by Mal Peet
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2007, 432 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2008, 432 pages

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A masterful story of adventure, love, secrets, and betrayal in time of war, both past and present

The challenge of having young people review books tends not to be in getting them to read the book in the first place but wrestling a review out of them afterwards - so we knew Tamar must be something special when our 14-year-old reviewer voluntarily delivered his opinion within minutes of completing the book .......

"Tamar is an wonderful meld of fact and fiction. Based in Second World War Holland, it is an amazing tale of romance, espionage and betrayal. It keeps you second guessing what is happening until the end. Tamar makes you feel as if you are in the Second World War, experiencing the horrors of raids and rationing. Overall Tamar is an astounding book. It also made me really think about the arguments and counter arguments for each situation. I would recommend it to people above the age of 12."

As explained in the sidebar, Tamar is the second of three books Peet has so far written for teens. His first book, Keeper, is set in South America with a football (soccer) theme; his third book, The Penalty, is a follow up to Keeper; and sandwiched in between is Tamar, published in the UK in 2005 and in the USA a few months ago.

Peet explains that a chance encounter with the father of a friend of his, who had worked as a radio operator for the SOE in Holland, provided the spark for Tamar; "He told me about these code silks which he'd kept for 60 years. And that tiny thing triggered lots of interests I had in things like encryption and crossword puzzles and riddles, and the way we use codes in social groups, particularly in families."

Codes and secrets in general are key to Tamar's two storylines. The central story is set in German-occupied Holland where a young man named Tamar is assigned to coordinate the local resistance groups; his colleague Dart is a radio operator charged with sending operation reports to London. The second story-line is set in the modern-day, where 16-year-old Tamar attempts to solve various family mysteries, not least of which is why her grandfather recently committed suicide. Key to the mysteries are the contents of the box her grandfather left behind containing maps, a photograph of two soldiers, Dutch identity papers, coding materials and a substantial amount of cash.

Peet holds strong views on a number of aspects of children's publishing, one of which is what he feels is an unnecessary distinction between books for teens and those for adults; he particularly dislikes the term "crossover fiction". Tamar makes a good argument for his position, combining a powerful mystery set against a background of historical fact with a number of complex themes. Peet talks to his readers, whatever their age, never down at them.

In partnership with his wife Elspeth, Peet has written and illustrated a great many educational books for children. As a result he also has strong views on the way history is taught in school, specifically the way in which children are taught history as isolated units without understanding the context that links them together.

He worries that children lack a direct connection to the past. Speaking of children in Britain he says, "They are the result of a recent historical struggle to do with the war and to do with socialism, and they don't know that's part of them."

Apart from being a ripping-good read, Tamar's dual narrative, connecting the present with the past, certainly encourages readers to seek connections to their own past.

This review was originally published in September 2007, and has been updated for the September 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.



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