Set in the Netherlands, 1944, this wartime drama opens with a “Bam! Bam! Bam!” on a farmhouse door.
Thirteen-year-old Dirk, alone with his little sister, Anna, is afraid it is the Gestapo. It is almost as bad: A neighbor tells him the Gestapo has picked up his older sister, Els, and will come for Dirk next. Dirk takes Anna and flees, knowing the Gestapo may imprison them or worse in their effort to smoke out Papa, a leader in the Dutch Resistance. Chapter-ending cliffhangers punctuate the children’s treacherous journey, which readers can trace on a frontmatter map. Even after arriving safely at Tante Cora’s home, the children must go out to obtain desperately needed food and are captured and imprisoned in a munitions factory. Their ordeals are interspersed with chapters focusing on Els’ suffering at the hands of the Gestapo. Dirk’s quick-thinking inventiveness and indulgence of Anna’s chirpy exhortations to pray keep the tale grounded in the children’s perspectives, and a light hand with gruesome details marks this for a middle-grade audience. Although the aid the children receive from a deserter from the German army feels like a contrivance—he knew their father in school—the episode illustrates that the neighboring countries had not always been enemies. The family’s reunion is an example of resilience despite the upheaval of war. Dirk and his family are white Christians; the Jewish experience is ancillary to the plot.
A gritty but hopeful wartime thriller. (maps, historical note, author Q&A, discussion questions, timeline) (Historical fiction. 8-12)