Inga is only two when she is stolen from the home of her parents by an old woman. Things get a bit mystical here as the old woman takes Inga (now known as Yona) to live in the forest and teaches her how to survive. She also tells Yona that she has a very important purpose to fulfill. The two are alone for almost twenty years, until the old woman's death. And now Yona is alone. And the war has begun...
The premise intrigued me...what is Yona's purpose? Will she make contact with other people? How will the war tie in? Is she going to be safe? The connection with others is one the first questions answered. Can you imagine having seen only one person in twenty years and having no concept of what the 'real' world is like, despite being taught?
The scenes and the events in the forest are based on real events. Harmel provides a detailed author's note at the end, giving us the real accounts of the Jews who survived by hiding and living in the forest for years. It's quite fascinating. Gentle readers, Harmel's recounting of this piece of history also contains descriptions of atrocities committed by the Germans.
The Forest of Vanishing Stars is also a search for meaning, purpose, faith, relationships and yes, romance for Yona. I liked Yona and her inner strength. There are a large number of supporting characters as well. A few of these felt like caricatures, there for a specific purpose. Zus however was well drawn and I found him to be quite believable. And full of hard earned wisdom. "Your identity isn’t determined by your birth. All that matters is what we make ourselves into, what we choose to do with our life".
The reader was Madeleine Maby. She has an well modulated voice and her speaking speed is good. Her tone is somewhat 'full' if that makes sense. It's not as crisp as I prefer. Her voice is expressive, rising and falling to illustrate the tension and events of The Forest of Vanishing Stars. She captures Yona's innocence with her voice and it grows stronger as Yona does. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of The Forest of Vanishing Stars.