Life in a Jar by Jack Mayer

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What makes Life in a Jar truly an amazing story is how the lives of the Kansas students who researched Holocaust heroine Irena Sendler’s becomes part of the larger story of love and redemption that’s told here. The book was produced as a play and won National History Day in 2000, a competition among middle- and high-school students based on original research.

The first “strand” is the story of Sendler, a Polish Catholic health worker who uses her access to the infamous Warsaw Ghetto to develop a network of rescuers that smuggled out 2,500 Jewish children. Her story reminds us that the image of God is still part of the human experience and that selflessness and heroism are not simply characteristics of good books, but take place in real life.

The second “strand” are the personal stories of the students who realize they can face their own adverse circumstances with bravery and endurance, like Sendler. Liz, one of the student researchers, struggles with the fact that her mother had abandoned her.

The third “strand” is perhaps the most gut-wrenching and awe-inspiring story, as you read about the courage of the Jewish mothers and fathers who handed their children over to Sendler to save them. Sendler wrote down the details of where she sent the children in jars and hid them, hoping that, one day, the children would be reunited with their families.

The fourth “strand” is where the story becomes a stunning, and life-altering, narrative. The teenagers travel to Poland, find Sendler, and perform their play for her and her team of rescuers and survivors. “You have rescued the rescuers, girls,” she tells them.

Sendler, and particularly Liz, faced bigger struggles than I ever have, but somehow they faced the tragedies in their lives and gained great depth. I read, I wept, and I thought deeply about life, sacrifice, love, and the power of forgiveness. I also spent a lot of time thinking about the amazing sacrifice God the Father made for me in sending His only Son on my behalf. If you want to be captivated by stunning self-sacrifice–and swept away by the human spirit that endures under incomprehensible pressure–this is the summer read for you.

Published by Long Trail Press, 2011

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