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Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain, by John Boyne. Doubleday Canada, Random House. 2015. $22.99 ages 14 and up

"It took a long time for Pierrot to fall asleep that night, and not because he was excited about the arrival of Christmas morning. Interrogated by the Fuhrer for more than an hour, he had willingly revealed everything he had seen and heard since his arrival at the Berghof: the suspicions he had felt towards Ernst, and his great disappointment in his aunt for betraying the Fatherland ... "

If you read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (Random, 2006), you will know what powerful stories John Boyne tells. They are compelling and memorable, and their characters are quite remarkable.

He returns us to World War II with this story about Pierrot Fischer who lives in Paris. He is of French/German parentage. Both parents are dead and he is being cared for by his friend's mother. His aunt Beatrix who is German, sends for him and gives him a new name ... Pieter. As housekeeper to Hitler, she takes him to the Berghof where he lives with the rest of the staff stationed there. Hitler is a periodic visitor.

Although his aunt offers precautionary advice, Pieter loves the attention that Hitler gives and soon falls for his rhetoric and charisma. In the nine years from the time he arrives until the end of  the war, we go from feelings of sympathy for to abhorrence at his actions. Their discussions and the descriptions of their encounters are played out for readers in clear and perfectly paced writing.

It is not hard for readers to grasp the path that Pieter is being led down. The characters are compelling and real. Many moments that are chilling and unsettling. The trajectory of Pieter's indoctrination is evident. His own brutal behavior and its aftermath are sure to encourage conversation and discussion concerning his childhood, his admiration for the Fuhrer, and his anger at what he deems traitorous. Was it better to be a bully than be bullied? Can he ever redeem himself?

A surprising and very emotional prologue catches readers up the events that followed the end of the war. This is a compelling and unusual story and worthy of being shared in middle years and high school classrooms.

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