Author Jeanne Moran, 57, of Nicholson, wanted to write a novel-length book, but knew the topic would have to be something she was passionate about. An experienced writer, her short pieces appeared in publications such as “Chicken Soup for the Soul” and “Highlights Magazine,” among others. She had not yet attempted a long story, however, when the idea came to her for her new book, “Risking Exposure,” a young adult historical fiction piece.
The story, which is set in Germany during World War II and is about a young girl who contracts polio, was conceived from Moran’s passion for people with disabilities, as well as her family’s German heritage.
“This topic struck a nerve for me,” she said.
The protagonist is a 14-year-old German girl named Sophie Adler, who starts off as a law-abiding Hitler Youth member.
“Everything seems to be going okay for her,” Moran said. “She’s an amateur photographer, she is talented, she is going to be named the official photographer for Hitler Youth Troops and she is very excited about this opportunity.”
Then, polio, a viral disease which affects the nerves and can lead to paralysis, lands her in the hospital for months at a time. While there, she is given allotments of film so she can continue her photographic work.
“What she doesn’t know,” Moran said, “is the youth leader is taking the film, developing it and using it in propaganda posters, and the posters are demeaning to people with disabilities.”
When Sophie finds one of the posters, she suddenly learns she is no longer a Nazi insider, but the next Nazi target. Moran said the story is about what Sophie does once she realizes this and develops an “awareness of exactly what it means to be an outsider.”
This awareness is also what Moran hopes to instill in her young readers.
“It’s an awareness of just how extensive the Nazi pogroms were, but also that concept that as a person who sees injustice, you can’t fix it all, but you can do something. And this protagonist repeatedly was saying, ‘I can’t do anything about that, I can’t do anything about that,’ but at the end, she had to come to face the fact that there is something she can do. It might not be huge. She’s not going to fix it all. But there is something she can do.”
Although the character and plot are fictional, the circumstances and setting of the story are historically accurate, according to Moran, who said she researched the era “quite extensively.”
In order to research the physical setting of the story, she travelled there. In Munich, the capital of the German state of Bavaria, she connected with a research librarian who showed her a map of the city in the 1930’s before it was heavily bombed by the Allies. She left with copies of street car maps, old photos and a sense of authenticity for her story.
“By the end of the research trip to Munich,” she said, “I was able to pinpoint the street that Sophie would have lived on, and pictured, ‘this would have been her school, this would have been her home church, these would have been the streets that she walked.’ And that was really cool. To me, it all came to life when I was able to do that.”
Her research also took her to the Library of Congress, where she donned white gloves and held in her hands yellowed crumbling newspapers published in Germany during the Nazi era.
Even the book’s cover, which is the artwork of Dalton freelance illustrator Michel Rausch, carries that authenticity. The cover image of the character was created using real models—a camera from that era, a Hitler Youth uniform and a crutch and brace which would have been used during the time period.
“I felt like I really got authentic details,” Moran said. “I was able to recreate a setting and put a fictional character into it.”