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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Graffiti Knight, written by Karen Bass. Pajama Press, 2013. $14.95 ages 12 and up

"Karl carried Father's crutches on his shoulder like a pair of rifles. Georg packed our satchels, and I pushed the wheelbarrow. As we headed to the pharmacy, curtains on either side of the oddly deserted street fluttered to mark our passing. The neighborhood was taking note. Word would travel fast. Heinz Tauber had been beaten by the police. What had he done to deserve it? What could they do to avoid the same fate?"

The thing about TBR piles is that they never seem to get shorter; at least, mine do not. The resulting sadness is that certain books do not get the mention they deserve from me until too late - or is it?  NO! It's  never too late to read a remarkable book! That thought brings me to Wilm, his friends and a time in history that is difficult to fathom.

World War II is over. In 1947, the people of East Germany are working to bring stability and some comfort to their world gone mad. The Soviets rule the streets with oppressive control, with the help of the German police (Schupo) who do the Soviets' bidding. Playing spying games in the streets with his friends changes dramatically for Wilm one day:

"Then - the sound of something hard hitting something soft. Boots against flesh. I flinched with every thump, felt every strike in my legs, my back, my gut. I tasted mud and knew Father tasted blood. He groaned at each blow, swore. Finally he cried, "Shoot me, you cowards! What kind of animals beat a one-legged man? Shoot me and be done with it."

This senseless beating of his father, who lost his leg in the war and came home suffering mental distress at being disabled, is the final straw for Wilm. He begins a game full of much bigger risks. Daring and dangerous, he wants to humiliate the police for their actions after finding out that the Soviet soldiers have sexually assaulted his older sister, leaving her fearful and withdrawn. He is a young man possessed of a fervor, who does not recognize the repercussions for his actions should he be caught.

While working to deal with the chaos that has become his life, Wilm meets Otto, a civilian engineer commissioned by the government to assure the safety of the bridges near Leipzig. Otto provides advice and some stability for Wilm, encouraging him to stop taking such chances and look to the future for a better life. Wilm needs a father figure, given his own father's helplessness at dealing with the life he is now forced to lead.

Ever braver with each success, Wilm takes one too many chances and brings danger to everyone he loves. It forces Wilm, his sister and his friends to flee their homes and to try to find shelter in American-controlled territory, finally safety in Munich. It is a terribly scary and perilous flight.

Heart-stopping and historically accurate, this is a book that explores the lasting effects of war. The fear is evident at every moment, the hunger palpable, the need to make a statement strong. Each of the characters is brilliantly constructed, the setting is well established and the plot pulls the reader from page to page with no release.  Rebellion has consequences is its lasting lesson.

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