Thursday, May 15, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Courage, Integrity and Conviction - Review of "The Boy Who Dared" by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

**Originally Posted on cj's bookshelf on July 29, 2011**

Title: The Boy Who Dared: A Novel Based on the True Story of a Hitler Youth 
Author: Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: February 1, 2008
Reading Level: 13 and up

Synopsis: (from Goodreads) –
Just as the Nazis are rising to power, Helmuth Hübener, a German schoolboy, is caught up in all the swashbuckling bravado of his time. The handsome stormtrooper uniforms, the shiny jackboots and armbands, the rousing patriotism all serve to draw him into this bright new world full of promise and hope. In the beginning his patriotism is unwavering. But every day the rights of people all over Germany are diminishing. Jews are threatened and their businesses are being destroyed. The truth has been censored, and danger lurks everywhere. Anybody can turn on you. The world has turned upside down: Patriotism means denouncing others, love means hate, and speaking out means treason. How much longer can Helmuth keep silent? Told in flashback, Newbery Honor Book author Susan Campbell Bartoletti magnificently explores the life of a heroic German youth who dared to stand up against the Nazi regime.

My Review:

Where has this genre been all my life?

Okay, okay – I need to clarify here.  I read plenty of books about World War II and the Holocaust.  I read The Diary of Anne Frank and Number the Stars in school.  I even went to the Holocaust Memorial Museum on a school trip to Washington DC in 8th grade (which was hands-down the most memorable stop on that trip.  I don’t remember all the quotes from the war memorials or everything from the Smithsonian – but I remember every single minute I was in the Holocaust Museum.  It will haunt you, disgust you and inspire you to be the very best of humanity. Sound weird, but it’s true).  Most of the things I’ve read or heard about the Holocaust come from the Jewish victims with a little flavor of people who helped Jews hide.  But I have rarely read books about Germans in the 1940s who did not agree with the Nazi plan and even risked their lives to oppose Hitler.

Now, however, I've read The Book Thief and The Boy Who Dared – and my heart breaks for those people.

The Book Thief introduced me to the concept that there were Germans who opposed the Nazis (I sort of knew that was the case, but I really hadn’t thought about it very much). Reading The Boy Who Dared drove this point home with me.  Not all Germans were marching in the squares and Heiling Hitler at every turn and corner.  So many of them just wanted to provide for their families and be good people at a time when doing one meant not doing the other.

For most of my life – indeed, for many in my generation, World War II seems like such a distant time in history.  You learn about it the same way you learn about the pilgrims, the American Revolution, the Civil War and the Great Depression.  They are just dates and names in the history book that don’t mean much.  I thought so too – until I realized that my parents were born not even fifteen years after the war was over.  And then I thought that fifteen years really isn’t that long of a time period.  It felt that way when I was a kid, but I’m older now.  And it gives me chills.

I've often wondered how the Holocaust was allowed to happen.  Even after all my study and learning how the yellow Stars of David and mandatory curfews and segregated schools slowly became the concentrations camps, it still baffles me how this could happen.  I'll be honest, it scares me to death. You have a country hurting because of an economy that is completely and totally in the sewers because of losing a war, the entire nation was humiliated and they got desperate enough to let Hitler and his guys come in and hijack a country for their own power and personal gain and call it patriotism.

I just realized this review hasn’t talked much about The Boy Who Dared, but I think that’s because I just finished this book and it’s got me thinking about this.  For me, that is a sign of a magnificent piece of writing – that you don’t necessarily notice the writing style or the characters, but the content of the story.  Helmuth Hubener is a fantastic character.  I hesitate to call him a “character” because he was an actual person and these things really happened, but Bartoletti’s characterization of him is so wonderful and I enjoyed reading his thought processes and how he came to do what he did.  This is a seventeen-year-old kid who is illegally tuning into the BBC radio broadcasts and distributing fliers with news of the war from his radio.  But he didn’t just wake up one morning and think “Gosh, I’d really like to get arrested by the Gestapo, so I’m going to print up anti-Nazi pamphlets and really cheese them off.”  Everything he did was driven by the fact that he was taught to respect others and see people as sons and daughters of God and that patriotism does not mean demonizing an entire group of people just because they’re a convenient scapegoat.

The fact that this was written for the YA set – that you would trust teens enough to understand something like this (well, I would anyway) – speaks volumes to the importance of the topic and the reverence that people like Helmuth Hubener deserve.  Anyone even remotely interested in human history owes it to themselves to read this book.

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