Wednesday, 8 June 2016

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain

Author: John Boyne
Genre: Historical Fiction (WWII)
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 215
Source: Publisher
Publisher: DoubleDay Children's Canada
First Published: June 7, 2016
First Line: "Although Pierrot Fischer's father didn't die in the Great War, his mother Emilie always maintained it was the war that killed him."

Book Description from GoodReadsWhen Pierrot becomes an orphan, he must leave his home in Paris for a new life with his Aunt Beatrix, a servant in a wealthy household at the top of the German mountains. But this is no ordinary time, for it is 1935 and the Second World War is fast approaching; and this is no ordinary house, for this is the Berghof, the home of Adolf Hitler.

Quickly, Pierrot is taken under Hitler's wing, and is thrown into an increasingly dangerous new world: a world of terror, secrets and betrayal, from which he may never be able to escape.

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

My Review: John Boyne is the author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, a book that showed the horror of concentration camps through the eyes of a child.  In this new novel, Boyne has written a story in a similar vein (this time with more grit/violence) that shows the innocence and naiveté of childhood and how easily it can be corrupted.

This is a short novel (220-ish pages) but it's packed with a lot of food for thought as it tackles some serious issues.  While this book is written for a youth audience I'd suggest it for readers 12 years of age and up since there are some violent scenes which, while they would make for some great discussion with tweens/teens, may be too much for more sensitive readers.

In this new novel, Boyne deftly juggles the horrors of WWII with the innocence of childhood.  He showcases how hatred and power can trounce innocence especially when one sees no other worthy options.  He includes some touching scenes and some that are hard to witness but Boyne's words bring the reader into the heart of the issues that face this young boy and his unique living conditions.

I enjoyed seeing Pierrot's progression from likable protagonist who has lost so much to witnessing his metamorphosis into a very different person.  Gradually, Pierrot/Pieter accepts Hitler's teachings, eagerly wanting to have the acceptance, leadership and attention that Hitler could provide, as he transforms into Hitler's little minion.  While it was equally sad, maddening and frustrating that Pierrot was such a blind follower to Hitler, Boyne shows how this progression was possible with Pierrot not wanting/needing to think for himself or to think about the ramifications of his decisions.  I went through many emotions regarding Pierrot from wanting to shake him, hug him, help him and pity him but more than anything I wanted him to come to his senses.

Overall, this was a well-written and enlightening read that I read in two sittings.  While the book is a little slow taking off the amount of discussions that it can provide for young readers is well worth the wait.  It tackles many important issues including friendship, death, bullying, the loss of innocence, standing up for what's right and learning to find your own way in spite of the powers around you.

Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Doubleday Children's Canada for providing me with a complimentary hardcover copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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