Roberto is separated from Sergio and Memo, but luckily he and Samuele manage to stay together. Since the round up, Samuele has been going by the name Enzo to hide the fact that he is a Jew.
"They can't kill someone just for being Jewish."Roberto is an innocent young boy, but he learns right away the importance of quick thinking. He helps Enzo hide the fact that he is Jewish, and he shares his meager food rations with Enzo when one of the other boys discovers Enzo's secret. When he and the other boys are forced to build a holding pen for Polish Jews, Roberto slips food through the fence to a young girl and her little sister, and he learns to steal clothes and shoes from the dead -- including dead German soldiers -- to keep warm during the brutal winter months. But his strength and maturity are put to the ultimate test in the Ukraine, when he escapes from a work camp and attempts to make his way back to Venice.
"Listen to yourself." Enzo's voice grew hoarse. "Your insomnia -- my nightmares -- they don't come from nowhere. They killed the boys on the train just for wanting to go home. They killed that boy at the first work camp just for fainting."
...Roberto shook his head now. He wouldn't believe Enzo's words. He couldn't. "My father brings home the newspaper every day. There was nothing in them about killing healthy Jews."
"Some news doesn't get printed."
"But something like that, people would know. People would talk about it."
"Jews talk about it." Enzo rubbed his nose and looked away. "It hasn't been going on all that long. It started in the spring. Death camps. They're in Poland, I think." The words came out with a slow deliberateness. Totally matter of fact, as though they weren't the worst words in the world. "Jews are moved from the work camps to the death camps. There's a work camp near Munich." Enzo looked back at Roberto. "When our train pulled up to the Munich station, I figured I'd die there." Enzo's voice held the same tone it had when he came out of the water yesterday -- the tone that was so terrible. The tone of resignation. (pages 60-61)
Stones in Water is a heartbreaking story of innocence lost to the brutality of war. Roberto's eyes are opened wide to the true horrors of war, and he must rely on strength he never knew he had when he is on the run alone. I found myself tearing up when reading about the cold nights in the work camps, with Enzo telling Roberto stories from the Old Testament to put him to sleep. My heart broke for the characters not shown in the book, particularly Roberto's parents, who must have been crushed to learn of their sons' capture and agonized over whether they would ever be reunited.
The book is geared toward 8- to 12-year-old readers, with the war shown through young eyes. Roberto learns about the death camps from his friend, and his thoughts are those of a young boy, which will help young readers put themselves in Roberto's shoes. There are scenes in which children are beaten, even murdered, at the hands of the Germans, and while these scenes are not overly graphic, I would recommend this book only for mature readers in the intended age group. In my opinion, this is more of a "grown up" children's book about the war than Lois Lowry's Number the Stars, in that more details are provided about the evils of war without overwhelming children with intense, graphic scenes of violence. Napoli gets the point across in as gentle a manner as possible while staying true to the darkness and harshness of the events depicted.
Stones in Water is a fast, engaging read, and I flew through the 209 pages in a day. It was interesting to see in the acknowledgments that the story is based "loosely (very, very loosely) on experiences of Guido Fullin during World War II." I wish Napoli would have said what parts of the story were true and what parts were fiction, as I always find that fascinating, but the story was exciting nonetheless. However, I was a bit disappointed with the ending. It wasn't a bad ending -- there is a bit of hope after all, and Roberto shows much growth in character -- but instead of hinting toward a new story, I wish Napoli would have resolved some of the loose ends. Still, Stones in Water is a worthwhile read, and readers both young and old can learn something from Roberto's story.
Stones in Water is the 18th book I've completed for the World War II reading challenge at War Through the Generations. I just can't seem to stop myself, and I have tons more WWII books sitting on my shelf.
Disclosure: I purchased my copy of Stones in Water.