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When The World Was Ours

Written by Liz Kessler

Key Stage 4 Fantasy / Magical Gritty Reads Historical Fiction

LoveReading View on When The World Was Ours

A powerful and heart-breaking novel about three childhood friends living during the Second World War whose fates are closely intertwined, even when their lives take very different courses

Longlisted for the UKLA Book Award 2022 ages 11-14

An extraordinary, powerful, and important book, based on the true story of how Liz Kessler’s father escaped from Nazi-occupied Europe thanks to a British couple his family had met once. But what elevates this book about three friends and their different fates in World War Two is the story of Max, the nice, ordinary boy who gradually becomes seduced into hatred and prejudice. The ringing question, ‘What would I do under these circumstances?’ echoes on every page. ~ Francesca Simon


When The World Was Ours Synopsis

A powerful and heart-breaking novel about three childhood friends living during the Second World War whose fates are closely intertwined, even when their lives take very different courses. Inspired by a true story, this is the perfect read for fans of The Book Thief and Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl.

Vienna, 1936. Elsa, Leo and Max have always been best friends, a special team of three. Then the Nazis come. As a growing darkness descends around them, Leo and Elsa run for their lives, taking two very different paths across Europe. And Max, once their closest friend, now becomes the enemy as he is drawn into the Hitler Youth. Will the friends ever find their way back to each other? Will they want to?

Inspired by a true story, When the World Was Ours is an extraordinary novel that is as powerful as it is heartbreaking, and shows how the bonds of love, family and friendship allow glimmers of hope to flourish, even in the most hopeless of times. Three friends. Two sides. One memory.

When The World Was Ours Press Reviews

When The World Was Ours is Liz's masterpiece . . . an instant classic -- Anthony McGowan, winner of the 2020 CILIP Carnegie Medal

An exceptional read - The Sunday Times, Children's Book of the Week

A wonderful book, half tragedy, but told with such sheer, warm humanity that it leaves you with hope -- Hilary McKay - author of The Skylarks' War

I haven't read a Holocaust book for children that's better -- Charlotte Eyre - The Bookseller

When The World Was Ours is the most wonderful, terrible, powerful, important book I have read in years and years. It is so good, so real, so unflinching -- Cathy Cassidy

When The World Was Ours is an exceptionally powerful book based on Liz's family's extraordinary escape from Nazi occupied countries . . . a book I hope will be read and discussed by children everywhere -- Francesca Simon

An absolute masterpiece! -- Keren David

This is a tour de force, a book about friendship and what happens when hate is institutionalised, but most of all it's a book about love -- Catherine Johnson

Utterly, utterly gut-churningly brilliant. It's a superb piece of writing. It should win everything going -- Tanya Landman

This stunning book is going to make you rage, and cry, and yelp with joy, then cry and rage again. A genuine tour de force from Liz Kessler. I couldn't put it down except to wipe away tears -- Joanna Nadin

This striking Holocaust story was a real passion project for Liz Kessler and it shows. Begins in Vienna in the 1930s, following the fortunes of three friends over the following years. Inevitable ugly crying at the end -- Karen McCombie

When The World Was Ours is a gut-wrenching story of friendship torn apart by war. I can't recommend it highly enough -- Anna Wilson

Book Information

ISBN: 9781471196812
Publication date: 11th November 2021
Author: Liz Kessler
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Childrens Books an imprint of Simon & Schuster Ltd
Format: Paperback
Pagination: 320 pages
Year Groups: Key Stage 4
Topics: Fantasy / Magical, Gritty Reads, Historical Fiction

About Liz Kessler

Liz Kessler lives in rural Cheshire. She has worked as a teacher and journalist and has an MA in Creative Writing.  

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