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About The Book


‘An exceptional read’ The Sunday Times
‘Vital glimmers of hope enlighten this profoundly poignant book’ Guardian

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.

About The Author


Liz Kessler has written over twenty books for children and young adults. Most of these are middle grade books featuring mermaids, fairies, time travel, and superpowers. She lives in the UK.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's UK (January 20, 2022)
  • Length: 320 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781471196812
  • Ages: 14 - 99

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Raves and 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

An unstoppable read - compassionate, angry and uplifting all at once

– Katherine Langrish

I just finished When The World Was Ours and I'm in tears. I don't think I've ever read anything so powerful, shocking or moving. Such an important book - it truly deserves to fly

– Emma Pass

This book is completely engaging and will engross young (and older) readers . . . it will prove to be very important, and widely read and recommended

– Linda Newbery

The most powerful book about the Holocaust I've ever read . . . it is an utterly stunning, and important, read. I'll be thinking about this one for a long time, and would urge everyone to read it

– Kerry Drewery

Powerful, heartbreaking, thought-provoking and timely. This story of three friends will be etched in my mind for a very long time. What an incredible novel

– Emma Perry

Very moved by the new Liz Kessler novel . . . the story and the story behind it. I wish I was a Costa judge next year as well

– John McLay

Powerful, heart-wrenching

– Leila Rasheed

A powerful, sombre and moving account

– The Financial Times

I read it in one sitting. It is heartbreakingly wonderful; a compelling book threaded through with hope that readers can grasp and take forward with them.

– Patrice Lawrence

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