CM . . . . Volume XX Number 3 . . . . September 20, 2013
In the aftermath of World War II, 16-year-old Wilm, his family and friends are struggling to rebuild some semblance of a normal life. Poverty abounds in Eastern Germany which is still under Soviet occupation. In many ways, Wilm has grown accustomed to living under the tyrannical control of the Soviets and the Schupo (German police who are, by his estimate, the "marionettes" of the Soviets), but he is slowly growing more and more restless.
Wilm and his friends devise a high-risk game, one wherein they perform reconnaissance, attempting to get behind "enemy" lines, evading and undermining the Schupo. Wilm, braver than his two friends, begins to take increasingly greater risks. His determination to humiliate the police and, thereby, the Soviets is heightened enormously by his discovery that his increasingly fearful older sister suffered a violent sexual assault at the hands of four young Schupo, an attack which resulted in her withdrawal from the outside world. Wilm, feeling very much the 'man of the house' since his father's debilitating war injury, becomes possessed by the desire to seek retribution for his sister and for his family.
In the midst of the chaos in his life, Wilm stumbles upon an unlikely new friend, a German bridge engineer commissioned by the government. Otto, an older gentleman, takes Wilm under his wing, acting as a mentor and guiding Wilm in the hopes of keeping him safe from Soviets. This friendship fills a void in Wilm's life marked by his flagging relationship with his bitter father.
Wilm's acts of defiance against the Schupo and Soviets escalate as he undertakes more daring acts of vandalism on the police headquarters. He grows braver and experiences a greater sense of power with each act of espionage. Unfortunately, his courage comes with a price, and eventually, Wilm attracts the attention of the Soviets, thereby putting his family and friends in great danger. After one final harrowing act of defiance by Wilm, he and his family are forced to flee Liepzig, escaping across the border into American-controlled territory.
Karen Bass' depiction of life in post-war Eastern Germany is incredibly gripping and informative. As young adult war-related historical fiction goes, this book is second to none. The story is loosely based on the true story of a close family friend of the author, making her protagonist all the more realistic and relatable. Readers will find themselves seeing the war-ravaged vantages through Wilm's eyes and feeling his pulse racing as Wilm sprints from the scene of his crimes, avoiding enraged Soviet officers and Schupo. Wilm's triumphs and fears become the readers' own. I believe this book could well be used as a supplement to World War II historical education in Canadian high schools.
Amy Trepanier holds a BA in Psychology from the University of British Columbia and an MLIS from the University of Alberta School of Library and Information Studies. She now is now the Teen Services Librarian at Red Deer Public Library in Red Deer, AB.
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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.