My Brother’s Secret by Dan Smith

From Brainwashing To Eyes Wide Open

My Brother’s Secret by Dan Smith was a powerful, heartbreaking children’s novel that totally consumed me. It is perfect for ages twelve years and over. Whatever your age, this is a great read.

The novel is set in 1941 in Nazi Germany. We meet twelve year old Karl and his brother Stefan who is four years older. Karl is a member of the Hitler youth group. He wears his uniform proudly, blindly believing everything he is told – until one day that changes everything and Karl begins to have doubts – a dangerous mindset at the time. Karl begins to question everything including his beloved Fuhrer.

Stefan is the opposite to Karl. He hates the Fuhrer and everything he stands for. Stefan does what he can to disrupt the Nazis. He is brave, and seemingly reckless at times. He loves Germany but hates the people running it and those who follow blindly.

Even as a member of the Hitler youth group, Karl has a conscience and empathy but is too afraid to follow it. “No one could help him. We were all too afraid.” Karl watches acts of cruelty but stays silent. His lack of actions keep him awake at night.

As Karl starts to question all he has heard, his true nature emerges. “You can’t believe everything they tell us at school.” Karl, along with a nation, has been brain washed.

We feel the pain of a family when the telegram boy appears. “It wasn’t about being proud of Papa. Now it was about dying and being scared.” War is neither glamorous nor glorious. It is dirty and painful. There are no winners, only grieving families on all sides.

There is an atmosphere of fear and mistrust. Even within families, other members could inform. Trust had to be earned.

We meet plucky, twelve year old Lisa who is holding on to hope for her father. The Nazis dragged him off, accusing him of being a communist. He was sent to a camp. Hope keeps her going. Lack of hope crushes and simultaneously awakes the giant within.

All the characters were well drawn, likable, realistic and easy to empathise with. Dan Smith has perfectly described the atmosphere within Nazi Germany – of pride and parades; of fear and cruelty; of hope and despair.

My Brother’s Secret was a heartbreaking, yet inspiring read as we follow a life from brain washing to eyes wide open.

My Brother’s Secret should be part of the National Curriculum as it helps the reader to empathise with the times. It was such a powerful read.


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