When World War I descends upon a tiny Polish village, seven boys launch their own deadly battle for the right to be crowned king of the land.
While playing in the woods, 12-year-old narrator Patryk finds a button, but his friend Jurek claims that it belongs to him. The rusty button becomes the inspiration for Jurek’s latest scheme. Whoever can obtain the best button can claim sovereignty over the village and rule over the others. Despite their apprehension at Jurek’s fervency, they all agree to the terms. As the bombs fall and the troops arrive, the eponymous conflict begins. But Patryk soon finds that Jurek is willing to do whatever it takes to claim the prize. Stealing, espionage, and murder are all fair in war. While the message is clear—there are no winners in war—the story’s lack of true heroism leaves readers with little hope for a better world. Fans of The Lord of the Flies and readers ready to plumb ambiguity will respond to the dark themes. Diversity is limited to nationality and class. German, Russian, Austrian, and British soldiers flood the town, and the boys, while all Polish, differ in standing. Jurek, an orphan, is one of the poorest in town, while the other boys are sons of artisans, teachers, and local politicians.
Bleakly demonstrates that war, no matter its scale, is devastating. (Historical fiction. 10-13)