Germany. 1938. Fourteen-year-old Sophie Adler, a member of BDM, the girls' division of Hitler Youth, has just discovered she has polio.
What happens next took writer Jeanne Moran of Nicholson, the creator of the young adult novel "Risking Exposure," which tells Sophie's story, on a journey that not only recognized her German heritage but one that also taught her a side of World War II-era history of which few people are aware.
"As an adult, I learned about a Nazi-era pogrom in which people with disabilities were exterminated," Moran, who works as a physical therapist, explained. "The seeds for 'Risking Exposure' came from my attempt to mix the oil and water of these disparate feelings - pride in my German heritage and the horror of realizing that people with disabilities, like my sister and my patients, were also Nazi targets."
Sophie's passion in life is photography and her Youth leader instructed her to photograph the hospital's patients and their experiences. As Moran explains, it is while performing this task that her character realizes her true worth.
"Without her knowledge, Sophie's own photos are used in a propaganda poster to support the Reich's position that people with disabilities are 'useless eaters,' those who consume goods but are worthless to society," Moran said. "Her character grows and changes as she realizes the importance of doing something, even though she knows that what she'll do is relatively small. She knows she won't change the whole Nazi regime."
"I think we all need reminders that, even though we can't fix everything, we have the power to act and positively influence our small corner of the world," she added.
Moran explained that the idea for "Risking Exposure" began six years ago and she had originally planned for it to be a mix of historical fiction and fantasy. During the writing and editing process, however, she changed her plot.
"Conventional wisdom for writers is that we don't really get to the heart of our story until we've slashed and edited the entire novel at least once or twice," she said. "That is certainly true for me. There are as many pages in my 'deleted scenes' folder as there are in the final version of 'Risking Exposure.'"
Moran also dove into her subject matter in a more personal way: purchasing a 1938 Sears Roebuck catalog and a 1930s German camera to lend authenticity to her work. She also visited Munich, including the city archives, where she got to know Sophie on a more human level. She also performed research at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
"When I started searching for a book about people with disabilities in the Nazi era, all I found was victim accounts," Moran said. "I wanted to read a story where the potential target stood up for his or her own dignity, but I found none. Toni Morrison suggests, 'If there's a book you want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.' So I did just that."
Moran will sign copies of "Risking Exposure" on Saturday, Nov. 30, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Duffy's Coffee House, 312 S. State St., Clarks Summit. Proceeds from November sales of the book will benefit the Factoryville United Methodist Church, while December sales will benefit the March of Dimes. January sales will benefit the Dietrich Theater and the Wyoming County Cultural Center, as will the proceeds from a signing there on Saturday, March 9, 2014.