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.

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To The Western Front With Love by Verity Slaughter-Penney

All The Same

To The Western Front With Love by Verity Slaughter-Penney is a powerful YA novel showing the futility of war.

The novel takes place in the years immediately preceding World War I and also from the outbreak of war to December 1914.

We see the build up and the early months from both the British and the German sides as we follow three young men – two British and one Bavarian. Both sides in war have parallel lives – young men brought up in the countryside with a love of animals and no desire to fight. They are medics, believing in saving lives not ending them.

The plotline is cleverly constructed as the reader is committed to the lives and welfare of all three young men. They all have families who love their sons and do not want to lose them.

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Voice In The Storm by Eric Thomas Ruthford

Lessons For Us All

Voice In The Storm by Eric Thomas Ruthford is a marvellous contemporary Christian YA novel that has lessons for us all to learn, no matter how old we are.

The book follows a group of teens at summer camp and in their daily lives. They are all thirteen/fourteen years old and on the cusp of adulthood. The book is split into five parts as we follow four teens and see the action from the various points of view.

We witness their troubles, their highs and lows as they attempt to be good Orthodox Christians in the world.

There is the isolation of a character who has started a new school. Being incredibly clever at science fails to win any popularity contests, especially as she seems to be more knowledgeable than her science teacher who fails to stop the bullying. This further isolates her.

There are also the heart-breaking themes of PTSD and subsequently substance and alcohol abuse. A child of thirteen is forced to become the adult. “I kept asking God to tell me how to fix Dad.” We cannot fix anyone. Our job is to pray, and leave the fixing to God. “I was responsible for praying… I wasn’t responsible for coming up with a way to fix it.”

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A Foot In Both Camps by Arrabella Williams

A Powerful Read

A Foot In Both Camps by Arrabella Williams is a heart-wrenching YA novel suitable for ages ten years and over.

The novel follows Susie, a young girl with Jamaican heritage but born in Britain. Her parents were part of the Windrush generation. We see her struggles as she has a foot in both camps – her father clings to his Jamaican roots whereas her mother tries to assimilate the family into the local community – first in Northampton and then in Birmingham.

Susie’s household is ruled by her father who is a cruel man, beating his children and his wife as he believes it is the Jamaican way. My heart went out to Susie. She is a little girl with a big personality who deserves to be loved.

I had much empathy for Susie and found her easy to identify with – I also grew up in Birmingham, learn to read with the Ladybird scheme of Peter and Jane, and watched Captain Scarlet and Thunderbirds. I was also in a class of 40 with wooden desks and inkwells. For me, A Foot In Both Camps was very much a walk down memory lane.

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