A German boy comes of age during World War II.
Peter is only 10 in 1939 when his mother registers him for Gymnasium, an elite school for German children with “pure” families, and the Jungvolk, the social organization for children too young for the Hitler Youth. There he is taught that Aryans are scientifically superior to other races and plays war games. Though there is never enough to eat, Peter and his neighbors are heartened by Chancellor Hitler’s radio promises of success through duty and loyalty. But as the war continues, Peter’s disillusionment grows as he proceeds through the ranks of the believers. When he and his friends return to Hamburg after Hitler’s defeat, they find their city devastated and learn that their revered leader was a sadistic killer responsible for “the murder of six million souls.” The novel takes its time, hewing closely to true events and only really taking off in the last third, when Peter and his friends survive several narrow escapes as they flee their doomed camp. However, Lewis’ detailed setting descriptions will provide readers with an accurate portrait of war-torn Germany, Hungary, and Denmark. Such details as the arithmetic that asks children to calculate how much various quantities of disabled people cost the state and the wholesaler who gives Peter what he calls “one of the last oranges in Germany” bring the reality home to them.
Solid. (glossary, author’s note, author interview) (Historical fiction. 10-15)