________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 17 . . . . January 13, 2017


The Pact.

Amanda West Lewis.
Markham, ON: Red Deer Press, 2016.
352 pp., trade pbk., $14.95.
ISBN 978-0-88995-544-8.

Subject Headings:
Germany-History-1933-1945-Juvenile fiction.
Nazis-Germany-Juvenile fiction.
World War, 1939-1945-Youth-Germany-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 6 and up / Ages 11 and up.

Review by Carmelita Cechetto Shea.

***½ /4



Peter felt a twinge of anger. Another book about war?

"I've also brought you Chancellor Hitler's book Mein Kampf. Herr Neitmann said that you will be expected to have read it before starting Gymnasium. He thinks you will like it. He says it makes you proud to be German."

Peter looked down to the fields beyond. He watched the cattle grazing slowly in the afternoon sun. It was strange to hear his mother talking this way. The last years had been really hard. Not just for him and his mother, but for everyone. There were no jobs and hardly any food in the shops. Crippled soldiers from the Great War begged on the street corners. On the radio, he heard the F├╝hrer say that France and Great Britain were responsible for German poverty.

The Pact tells the story of Peter Gruber, describing his life growing up in Nazi Germany as a young boy of 10 until he was 15-years-old when the war ended. At 10, Peter's character is revealed as a black market trader. The story takes the reader along Peter's "journey" into life as an SS recruit at the tender age of 15. Life during the war was full of hardships for Peter and his family and friends. Peter's mother believes her son would have a better life at an elite school or Gymnasium which is attended by students of "pure" German families, and so she registers him in 1939. There, Peter becomes a member of the Jungvolk, a social organization for children of pure German background who are yet too young to become members of the Hitler Youth. Inspired by the real life neighbour of the author, The Pact explores the complexity and almost cultist nature of children being driven into organizations that condone and thrive on brutality and hatred.

      The Pact provides another "side of the story", one often not understood in relationship to the Hitler Youth, the propaganda of Nazi Germany, and how once "inside", members often question the reality before them. The novel is told in first person voice, through the eyes of Peter himself. As Germany tries to rebuild after the First World War, life in the country sees many trials and hardships for the people. With the lack of food and employment, Peter, like many other boys his age, see hope in Hitler's promises and ideals. The charismatic Hitler is easily able to enlist many into this plan, his dreams, and his desire for the Aryan race. But it doesn't take long for Peter to understand exactly what is happening, and his disillusionment becomes clearly evident. Peter begins to internalize things as he becomes a front row spectator of the destruction and devastation of the war as well as the decay of morals and beliefs brought about by the fanaticism of the war playing out before him. The world becomes a place where childhood has been taken away, to be replaced by hatred, prejudice and greed.

      The author creates a character in Peter who is intelligent, well-read, curious, but also obedient to the wishes of his mother for his future. Throughout the novel, there are examples of the works of various Russian writers which are given to Peter by his mother, and Peter soon finds solace and refuge in these books, one ironically being War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy. These books provide the reader with greater depth into Peter's character, both literally and figuratively, and about being on the "other" side of war, the wrong side. Readers can empathise with Peter's struggle and hope for a positive resolution to his situation. It is these same novels that initially provide Peter with a sign of what lies ahead for Germany. The novel opens with Peter being hospitalized with diphtheria, as well as his experiencing flashbacks of a sort about his best friend Eugene's death by drowning; these dreams recur in the opening of each chapter. Other characters in the novel provide substance and credibility to the actions in the plot, whether it is the bully or Otto (a half Jewish boy, or "Mischling") who disappears during the war. Eventually, Peter learns the true meaning of friendship, loss, and humanity. Although Peter, at times, doesn't seem brave, or a strong member of the Hitler Youth, in the end, he discovers his own bravery and love of humanity.

      Lewis has written a historical book in which the author's descriptive passages grow deeper and more sombre and dark as the novel continues. From air raids, to firestorms, and times spent in Hungary and Denmark, each is written about with reality and believability for the actions transpiring in the story. The author grab the reader's attention and doesn't let go. The relevancy of the story rings true even now as, around the world, children are still becoming soldiers for radical causes. How can one tell the difference between the truth and propaganda? This is the dilemma faced in The Pact. When a childhood is taken, it never returns for a second chance. At what cost does survival become necessary in the life of a child?

      The Pact, as mentioned earlier, is based on the true story of Hans Sinn, the author's neighbour. Sinn was faced with terrible realities of what his life had entailed; Peter, too, faced the same reality. Embracing the future is a difficult task for both. Hans emigrated to Canada and has worked his entire life as a peace activist. He created the Peace Brigades, the non Violent Peace Force, and the Civilian Peace Service. As well, he has worked in the reunification of Germany through non violent efforts. As the co founder of the Brooke Valley Research in Education in Nonviolence, Sinn serves as one of three Directors of the Board. He also has a long track record of working with First Nations communities, especially the Cree Nation, for reconciliation, community development, and sustainable housing. For more information on the organization's missions, goals, and work, please visit http://www.brookevalleyresearch.ca/.

      The publisher has recommended the novel for grades 5-9, but this novel would also be a valuable resource in all grades from middle school through high school. With themes including social justice, genocide, the Holocaust, and the effects of propaganda and dictatorship, The Pact would be an asset in social studies courses of all types (i.e. history, global studies). It also would be an excellent read for people who enjoy historical fiction from this time period. The Pact is a very thought-provoking and satisfying read for young adult and adult readers alike.

Highly Recommended.

Carmelita Cechetto Shea is the Library Consultant for the Cape Breton Victoria Regional School Board in Nova Scotia.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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