A teenage photographer finds her courage amid the turmoil of Nazi Germany in this debut historical novel.
Sophie Adler is a typical German girl growing up in 1938. She enjoys participating in Hitler Youth activities and dreams of becoming a professional photographer. But her entire world changes when she contracts polio and ends up permanently disabled. Suddenly she finds herself cut off from her friends and labeled “useless” by the rest of society. To make matters worse, her parents get into trouble for resisting the Nazi government. Sophie is torn between her desire to fit in and be accepted by her friends again, and her longing to be brave like her parents. Either way, her camera becomes her greatest asset. Her troop’s “Scharführer,” Werner, wants to use her photographs to create pro-Nazi propaganda. But her father tells her to “photograph the truth,” and shows her how to use the camera to fight back. Through it all, she learns to live with her disability and still struggles to maintain her friendship with Werner’s sister, Rennie, and deal with her crush on her classmate Erich. Even though the story takes place in a fairly well-researched historical setting, much of it will resonate with modern teens, as many of Sophie’s problems—peer pressure, relationship struggles, and uncertainty about the future—are universal. But the Nazi setting means all those problems have much higher stakes than they would for a teen in, say, modern America. Unfortunately, the tale’s dialogue sometimes fails to sparkle. Sophie and, occasionally, other characters often have long, expository monologues that sound like they belong in a textbook rather than a novel. Sophie’s conversation with Rennie about a former Jewish friend, in particular, would have been better as a narrative flashback than a monologue. Assuming the author doesn’t have a sequel planned, the ending also leaves quite a few questions unanswered.
While well suited for a YA audience, this eye-catching snapshot of a Hitler Youth lacks strong dialogue.