There are teens who want to read about the here and now, and then there are teens who love to know what it was like to live in the past. World War II has been a rich and rewarding theme for fiction and non-fiction for teens – modern classics like The Book Thief and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas pique their interest and enhance their understanding of the world at that time.
These five books, three fiction and two non-fiction, offer events and perspectives that are unique but carry a common thread – resistance to the Nazi regime. All are based on actual events, and each one reminds the reader that the human spirit will always prevail.
Max by Sarah Cohen-Scali, translated by Penny Hueston
Roaring Brook Press/A Neal Porter Book
March 7, 2017
In Nazi Germany, Max is created as a designer baby to increase the Aryan population, and is even born on Hitler’s birthday. In this appalling glimpse into the Third Reich’s Lebensborn program, Max “Konrad” tells the haunting story of what it meant to be a gift to the Fuhrer, and how he helped the Brown Sisters kidnap Polish children who fit the Aryan ideal. Trained to become a fighter in the Hitler Youth, he is raised by the medical arm of the Nazi regime to hate Jews, homosexuals, and anyone perceived as weak. The chink in Konrad’s armor is Lukas, a Polish teen who has been selected in the raids as the perfect Aryan specimen. His internal conflict is heightened when he discovers that Lukas, who has taken on the role of Konrad’s older brother, is Jewish.
The stark red cover portraying a fetus wearing a Nazi armband definitely grabs attention. Max is told from the unusual perspective of one who is seasoned beyond his years, while still quite childlike. Narration begins in utero and grows along with Konrad. The plot-driven, compelling text depicts an irreverent view of one of the most disturbing time periods in history. Blunt, gritty language is bound to appeal to readers due to shock value. Though Konrad is certainly flawed and twisted from his upbringing, he possesses a naiveté that will make readers alternately dislike him intensely and pity him. Although the pacing is inconsistent, the suspense and menacing plot is enough to keep readers engaged. The Author’s Note at the end is jarring, as readers discover that Max is inspired by actual events, and that the Lebensborn program did, in fact, exist.