Congratulations to Janet Davis-Castro who won HER FEARLESS RUN on last week's blog.
No giveaway this week, but I hope you'll check out one of Alan Gratz's wonderful books.
From the Author's Note:
Project 1065 is a work of fiction set against the very real backdrop of Nazi Germany in World War II. Kristallnacht, the Gestapo, the SRD, the concentration camps, the Hitler Youth, the Edelweiss Pirates, the "Aryan" education in German schools--all of this real. Everything Adolf Hitler says to Michael and the other boys in this book is an actual quote from Hitler; I gathered them together from various speeches and interviews so that I wasn't putting words in Hitler's mouth. Adolf Hitler said enough crazy, awful things that I didn't need to make up anything new for him. p.307I have the privilege of knowing Alan Gratz, the North Carolina author of this middle grade book for boys and girls. That last sentence is pure Gratz--I can hear his earnest voice saying those exact words.
As readers of my blog know, this isn't my first review of one of Alan's well-researched and well-written pieces of historical fiction. Here is my review of Prisoner B-3087 and one of Refugee. Since Alan's latest book, Grenade takes place in Okinawa in World War II, you can see the connection. Hands down, Alan knows how to connect young readers to the facts and realities of war.
"It's hard to smile when you're having dinner with Nazis." (p.1) This attention-grabbing opening line says a lot. The speaker, thirteen-year-old Michael O'Shaunessey lives a life of pretend. The son of the Irish ambassador to Germany, he is in a precarious position: his parents are spies for the Allies and his uncanny ability to memorize words, numbers, and diagrams is one of their secret tools.
Michael's spy work is under the cover of being a member of the SRD, the junior group that will eventually join the Hitler Youth. It's a role he despises but one that grants him opportunities to access information which he passes along to his parents. He is in class with forty other members of the junior Hitler Youth; much of their time is taken up in learning Nazi propaganda and training to die for Germany.
SECONDARY CHARACTERSFritz Bendler, a new scrawny boy at school who Michael befriends; Michael's teacher, Herr Professor Doktor Major Melcher; and Simon Cohen, a Jewish airman who the O'Shaunessey's hide in the Irish embassy, are all important secondary characters. Although Simon teaches Michael important lessons about facing his fears and being willing to make sacrifices, I'm going to share some excerpts about Fritz and Melcher which help define Michael's journey.
Early in the book Michael provides an observation that is as much about himself, as it is about his teacher:
Even though I wasn't his biggest fan, I had a soft spot for the old codger. I'd gotten the impression he didn't love the Nazis. It was nothing Melcher had said or done--anything that explicit would have gotten him hauled off to a concentration camp or reenlisted in the army, even though he was too old to fight again. it was just the way he talked so lovingly about the way things used to be. I felt he was a kindred spirit. A fellow faker. (p. 29)
Later on, his classmates are taken aback when Doktor Melcher points out that Hitler, and the other Nazi leaders do not fit the blonde, blue-eyed, straight-nosed Aryan ideal.
You could almost hear the classroom gasp. Was Herr Professor Doktor Major Melcher joking? It had to be a joke. It was no secret that the Führer didn't match the Aryan ideal that he'd gone to war to defend, but no one talked about it. To speak of it in public was like saying the emperor wasn't wearing any clothes. It just wasn't done. But Melcher wasn't joking. I could tell, and so could the other boys. I felt as though I could hear the heartbeats of every boy in the room but mine slow to a cool, calculated thrum. They were trained to be on the lookout for dissenters, people who didn't agree with the Nazi party, tuned in like the special radios that Nazis sold that only picked up German radio stations.
.....If he wasn't careful he was going to end up in a concentration camp. (pp. 103-104)
Meanwhile, Fritz is frequently picked on because of his short stature. Michael decides to teach Fritz how to defend himself and the other boys set up a boxing match between the two friends. To his surprise, Fritz doesn't hold back and tries to clobber him. The scene graphically shows Michael's inner turmoil as well as the brutality of the fight.
I savaged him, fueling each new punch with some new hatred. I hated Hitler for starting this war. I hated the Hitler Youth for their constant bullying. I hated Fritz for making me hit him again. I hated myself for hitting him.
When at last I stopped, Fritz lay motionless on the ground, completely and totally beaten. All around us was utter silence. I looked up, eyes afire, chest heaving, arms tensed for another fight. Horst took a step back in fear. I had managed to scare even the monsters, and when you can scare monsters, you can be sure you've become one yourself (p. 128).
As the story progresses, the SRD boys--led by Fritz--torture and capture Doktor Melcher while the police stand by. Michael realizes that the police were scared of a group of 13-year-olds who could turn them over to the Gestapo. He is in agony--but chooses not to say anything in order to carry out his vital plan: steal the plans for Projekt 1065 from Fritz's house.
Fritz stood over me, a look of fierce cruelty in his knitted eye-brows and suddenly I understood. Why Fritz had wanted me to teach him how to fight. Why he'd been so desperate to join the SRD. All his life, Fritz had been the boy with the bloody nose sitting here on the ground, looking up at the bully who'd beaten him.
He'd joined the SRD so he could become the bully himself. Just like little Hitler. (p. 236-7)
If you haven't already realized it, I believe this book is a must-read for middle school students, teenagers, and adults. It is suspenseful, full of tension and page-turning action. At many points Michael is forced to make difficult choices, to sacrifice beliefs and people he loves, and to conquer his own fears. Although it is a frightening book because of the subject matter, the material is not gratuitously graphic for the sake of displaying violence. It is unfortunately, an accurate description of what life was like for these young boys who were brainwashed and forced to assume responsibilities that even adult solders would abhor.
TALKING STORY GIVEAWAYS
The summer issue of Talking Story, Celebrating Young Adults is now live. Our expert and illustrators are young adults and we're giving away four wonderful books: The Perfect Candidate, The Next to the Last Mistake, When Worlds Collide and Don't Blame the Reckless. Giveaway ends July 11th and don't forget to leave your email address if you are new to my blog. Also, please let me know which book you're interested in too.