After 16 years, Morris Gleitzman brings his best-selling series to a close, saying an emotional goodbye to his hero, Felix. The books have now stretched well beyond their beginnings, where Gleitzman introduced young readers to the horrors of the Holocaust through the eyes of his young protagonists, Felix, a Jewish boy, and Zelda, the Polish girl with Nazi parents whose life he saved. Since then, we’ve seen Felix as an old man in Now, and on the cusp of his adolescence again in After, Maybe and Soon.
In Always, Gleitzman takes us once more to future Felix as he says goodbye to his granddaughter Zelda and begins to navigate the challenges of old age and loneliness. He’s shocked when Wassim, a child and a stranger, arrives on his doorstep with a note begging for his help. Wassim’s struggles remind Felix of his own, and the two turn out to be more closely connected than either had expected. Felix sees the chance to offer Wassim the same “good-protection” that saved him over and over as a child, and Wassim sees Felix as an adult he can trust.
Gleitzman has no shortage of fans for this series – as an introduction to the Holocaust it is perfectly pitched for middle-grade readers, presenting history in a way that is matter-of-fact and hopeful without denying the realities. There’s no doubt that his readers will enjoy this adventure-filled farewell to Felix, and how Gleitzman gives adults and children the same capacity for understanding, violence and hope. But although there are certainly narrative conveniences in the earlier books, the level of adventure here feels contrived. Always speaks to contemporary racism and to legacies of violence and prejudice, but it does so in a way that loses the simple nuances of the earlier books in the series.
Much has been written about the power of hope in books for young readers, and they arguably need stories that provide that now more than ever. In some ways, the resolutions of Always are perhaps a way of offering it, and of giving a character who has overcome an extraordinary number of obstacles in his life a chance to finally have his happy ending.
Viking, 320pp, $19.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 4, 2021 as "Always, Morris Gleitzman".
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