The XX Factor

Anne Frank, Rated R for Sexual Content

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl is one of the most widely read books in the world, which means that millions of young women have cried over Anne. We identified, obsessed, wondered. We knew what she wrote-but how did Anne really feel about Peter van Pels (known as Peter van Damm in the Diary ), the boy whose family lived with the Franks in the secret annex? Many readers have long believed that Anne Frank’s father removed pages from her diary before allowing it to be published, and not just for editing. Anne herself edited her diary before her arrest, hoping to see its publication. In 2001, five pages, including passages about Anne’s emerging sexual desires, were added to “the Definitive Edition.” But those paragraphs didn’t answer the burning question in every 14-year-old reader’s mind: Did Anne and Peter do it or didn’t they ?

I admit it. I wondered. And I wonder, still, in part because to be a girl in her circumstances is so unfathomable, and teenage sex is something most of us can at least contemplate more easily. But YA author Sharon Dogar did more than wonder. She wrote Annexed , a novel, in the voice of Peter van Pels himself. Dogar’s Peter, in a manner more consistent with our times than his, tells all. “Sharon read and reread Anne’s diaries, and is in no doubt that they were in love,” the editorial director of Dogar’s publisher, Anderson Press, told the Telegraph . “After all, the hormones of both were raging.” The result of this conviction apparently includes graphic and intimate scenes between Anne and Peter, which enraged Buddy Elias, Anne’s first cousin, and caused nearly every woman I’ve mentioned it to say something along the lines of “Oh, no.”

Anne Frank isn’t sacred. To write a book speculating on her sex life isn’t really anything more than tacky, and arguably no tackier than the multiple movies, the play, the musical, and the forthcoming Disney offering that already put commercial spins on her life story. All imposed another character over that of Anne herself-but then, in writing and editing her diary, she surely did the same. But Annexed still feels wrong . It’s one thing to speculate about Anne’s sex life when living with her for a few chapters in a few stuffy rooms in Amsterdam. But to turn a dead boy into a raconteur is another thing entirely. Anne Frank predated our reality culture, and I want to insist that she be allowed to remain in a time when some things, for at least some people, were able to remain private matters.

But I have to admit that, if I were 12 and just stunned by Anne’s diary for the first time, I’d probably pick up Annexed. I can remember what it was like to hunger to have Anne live for just a few pages more. I wouldn’t have been able to resist. Maybe that’s why I do resist the whole idea of Dogar’s addition to the Anne Frank canon-I know I’d have read it. I know now that I don’t want Dogar’s fictional truth to become mine. But I wouldn’t have known it then. Dogar’s book has the power to change what Anne Frank’s Diary leaves in the mind of the next generation of readers, and nothing I say will change that. I suppose all that’s left to say is that I hope it’s good.