Thirteen-year-old Paolo Crivelli dreams of being a hero in Nazi-occupied Florence.
It’s a tricky business living in an occupied city. The Allies are advancing from the south, Paolo’s father is missing (thought to be fighting for the Partisans), and the Crivelli family is caught between the Nazi occupiers and the sometimes ruthless Partisans. This first novel by acclaimed children’s picture-book writer and illustrator Hughes expertly captures the tension in the Crivelli home, as Rosemary tries to raise her two children and keep them safe while covertly supporting the Partisan cause. Not so easy with a son like Paolo, who risks sneaking out at night on his bicycle, looking for his own way to be a hero for the cause. There are plenty of heroes here, as layers of resistance to the Nazis are carefully delineated—the obvious bold resistance of the Partisans in the countryside, Rosemary’s agreement to house escaped prisoners of war in her cellar, a lifesaving tip from the captain of the local military police and even a sympathetic member of the Gestapo who conveniently finds nothing when searching the Crivellis’ cellar. The townspeople, a dog and even Paolo’s bicycle play a role in the resistance movement, though the dangers and the realities of war are always tangible in this fine novel.
A superb historical thriller. (Historical fiction. 10-14)