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The Other Half of Life: A Novel Based on the True Story of the MS St. Louis
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The Other Half of Life: A Novel Based on the True Story of the MS St. Louis

3.83 of 5 stars 3.83  ·  rating details  ·  108 ratings  ·  30 reviews
A heartbreaking novel based on the true story of a World War II voyage.

In May of 1939, the SS St. Francis sets sail from Germany, carrying German Jews and other refugees away from Hitler’s regime. The passengers believe they are bound for freedom in Cuba and eventually the United States, but not all of them are celebrating. Fifteen-year-old Thomas is anxious about his pare
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published May 12th 2009 by Knopf Books for Young Readers (first published January 1st 2009)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 318)
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Alex Baugh
In 1939, 930 German Jews set sail across the Atlantic Ocean on the MS St. Louis in the hope of escaping Nazi persecution in Germany and of finding political asylum in Cuba. The trip was costly to begin with, and then Cuba demanded $500 additional dollars that the refugees couldn't afford to pay. The ship proceeded to the United States and Canada, but both countries refused to grant asylum to the Jewish refugees. The captain of the St. Louis had taken it upon himself the make sure the passengers ...more
Anne Broyles
This middle-grade historical fiction is based on the real-life voyage of the M.S. St. Louis, a luxury liner that took Jews away from Nazi Germany only to be turned away from Cuba, the USA and Canada. (All 947 passengers were returned to various countries in Europe, and many died in concentration camps.) Whitney tells the story through the eyes of 15-year-old Thomas, a prickly youth who carries guilt over his father going to Dachau and leaving his mother behind. I found Thomas hard to identify wi ...more
Curtis Dahlen
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
In 1939, Hitler and the Nazi Party have taken over Germany and Jews are rapidly being degrading and persecuted like never before. 15-year-old Thomas's father is Jewish and his mother, a gentile, has decided to send Thomas away to Cuba where he'll join his older half-brother in safety. Thomas is determined to be tough and cynical but two girls enter his life and change him for good. At first Thomas feels the beautiful Priska is naive and her little sister Marianne silly, but the more he gets to k ...more
Jul 17, 2011 Elizabeth rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: historical fiction lovers 12 and up
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I would have preferred to give this a 3.5 rating.

The story was a bit slow at times, in the descriptions of chess games and such. The history part was interesting to me as I had not heard of this ship and incident before.

From School Library Journal
Grade 6-8–Based on the story of the MS St. Louis in 1939, the journey of the fictional Nazi luxury liner MS St. Francis from Germany to Cuba and the United States creates the dramatic underpinning for this story. Focusing on 15-year-old Thomas Werkmann
Wow. That’s what I was thinking as I finished reading this book.

This book was incredible. It tells the story of a young boy named Thomas who boarded the St. Francis ship by himself, with his mother still in Germany, to hopefully find freedom in Cuba since he was a Jew during the time Nazis were out to kill them. Thomas was depressed while entering this ship. He was leaving behind his mother…he was leaving behind his father… and there was no guarantee that there would be a better life after the s
Karen Ball
In 1939, Germany was controlled by the Nazis. On May 13, the passenger cruise ship MS St. Louis left Hamburg, Germany with over 900 passengers, most of whom were Jewish people escaping Nazi persecution. Their destination was the island of Cuba. This historical fiction novel is based upon the events of that voyage. Thomas is just 15, and traveling alone on the MS St. Francis to go live with his stepbrother in Cuba. His Jewish father was sent to a concentration camp, and his non-Jewish mother coul ...more
Jul 25, 2010 Kathy rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: teen
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Jennifer Wardrip
Reviewed by Allison Fraclose for

It's 1939, and things have steadily grown worse for the Jews of Germany.

Fifteen-year-old Thomas Werkmann has witnessed firsthand just how cruel the Nazis can be, and his mother has scraped together the money to send him to Cuba on the tourist boat, the MS Francis, along with over 900 other Jews hoping to escape persecution. Upon their leaving in Hamburg, Thomas is unwillingly befriended by the two daughters of a German literature professor.

Sian Rips
This book takes place in the 1900s as Hitler is taking over Germany. Many jews board ships to Cuba in order to escape. This is a story of the kids, sailing on St. Frances, as they explore, play, and face hardships while on the boat as well.

One thing I liked about this book was the perspective. This book really captivates the carefree, yet worried feeling of the kids who were going through such a terrible time. Although, the kids aboard the St. Francis did not know much in the way of government
Sandra Stiles
This book is a must on every school shelf. I had never heard of the MS St. Louis before reading this book. I could not imagine being in Thomas’ shoes and being the only one from my family on a ship that was to take me to safety. Thomas’ father was taken to a concentration camp because he was a Jew and his mother, being a Christian had only enough money to buy the safe passage for her son. On board he meets Priska and becomes her friend. She reminded me of Anne Frank with her positive outlook, be ...more
This book was not only good because of the historical fiction , but because the way the author used chess to symbolize the Thomas journey. Although, I am not a fan of chess, this book caught my attention. I'd never seen chess in the eyes of a fanatic and i can honestly say that it convinced me. The author is brillant and i am awaiting for her work. My only critisism is that it was a bit easy for me.
Totally recommend this book to EVERYONE, but mostly to geeks like myself.
The Other Half of Life tells the story of the MS St.Louis, a German ocean liner, which transported 937 Jewish refugees into different countries in Europe when Cuba refused the ship. The novel takes place from the protagonist Jonas' point of view. Jonas, a Jew, was separated from his mother. For Jonas getting on that ship is the start of a new life, little does he know about what lays ahead on his journey. The Other Half of Life is a tragic, beautiful, and enduring tale.
Id never even heard of the ship before. i liked that the book showed another side of WWII that id never seen before, one where the US wasn't always ready to help.
i play chess but ive never been good at it, and this book showed me ill probably never be since i dont think ahead...oh well. :) besides a crushed dream...
i really liked the ending, not really caring (*spoiler*) that it wasnt happy. wonderful book!!
The story of 15-year-old Thomas' journey on a luxury ship carrying Jews from early WWII Europe to freedom in Cuba. A fictitious account of the real-life journey of the MS St. Louis. More information about this little-known voyage can be found at the back of the book and at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum website, including teaching resources. A good addition to historical fiction collections.
Sep 02, 2013 Heather rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: ya
This is a great book if you enjoy historical fiction and want to read a clean, thought provoking story that is serious but not graphic or too heartwrenching. It is a middle-grade book and many of the details are not based on real people or events but the historical framework is accurate. Although I am not a chess player I enjoyed the imagery and symbolism of chess used throughout the book.
Mary S.
Jan 05, 2010 Mary S. rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those who love historical fiction
Having to leave one country and enter a new unseen country would be a frightening situation. Having to leave home, family, community because of your race is staggering to consider. Fearing every day that you may not make it to safety is thought-provoking because we live where we feel safe. As we ponder these issues while reading, the characters in this book grow too with the same questions.
I really loved this story and stayed up late to finish it. Was totally with fifteen-year-old Thomas througout his journey on the ship, M.S. St. Francis just prior to World War II- Priska and her family also--all trying to get out of Nazi Germany and away from persecution. Emotionally gripping and really well told. Highly recommend this.
This was a good story, and it was very engrossing. I think Holocaust stories are very important, and this one centered around specific events I was not aware of. However, not a whole lot set it apart for me. And I do not like when I don't understand why a book has a certain title, and that was the case for me here.
This one was okay. There was nothing to make it stand out from other holocaust literature. It was lacking some of the soul searching and horror of other novels in the genre. Perhaps it's a good way to tell younger children about the holocaust without a lot of bloodshed, though it's no Number the Stars.
Lindsey Black
I loved this story about Jews who tried to escape Germany prior to WWII...The story is told from the perspective of 15 year old Thomas, who is traveling alone and falls in love with a girl on the ship. It is a really cute story, especially for grades 4-9. But even as an adult I enjoyed it.
Historical fiction - shocked that I liked this one based on genre. Story of Jews aboard a ship meant to take them out of Germany right at the beginning of WWII. Cuba, America, & Canada refused entrance to the passengers, turning the ship around.
If half-stars were possible, I'd probably give this three and a half. It is an interesting take on a part of history of which I was ignorant.
Didn't realize it was a middle school book when I started it :). Looking for a non-fiction account for follow up. Heartbreaking story.
Written by Alex Ablon's sister a juvy lit historical fiction based on teh true story of the MS St. Louis.
I normally don't read or enjoy historical fiction, but this book was really good.
Oct 22, 2009 Martha rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: middle school
Shelves: middle-school, 2009
A part of history I hadn't heard about before. Forced emmigration.
Lynn Johnson
Fascinating and horrifying at the same time.
It is pretty good so far
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Kim moved back to her hometown of Newton, Mass. where she lives with her husband, two young sons, and greyhound. She is a graduate of Tufts University, and has an M.F.A. in creative writing from Emerson College. She is a member of the PEN New England Children’s Book Caucus and is the coordinator of the PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award. A lifelong horse lover and rider, she is a natio ...more
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