My Brother’s Secret
Written by Dan Smith
Scholastic Press, 2015, 296 pp.
It was as if she’d given me a small lump of electricity. The piece of paper seemed to come to life and tingle in my palm. I wanted to open it up right then and discover its secrets. I wanted to know what was written on the back and I wanted to see the picture again, the one of the Fuhrer standing among the bodies of our dead fathers. (p.117)
As the war in Europe rages on, twelve-year-old Karl notices that his 16-year-old brother Stefan is keeping secrets. Prior to this revelation, Karl believed that what his government is doing—what his father died for—is right. He plays war games and is excited to join the Hitler Youth. With the death of his father at the Russian front, however, Karl begins to wonder about what is right, the purpose of the war, and the meaning of the small white flower inside his brother’s jacket. With the help of his new friend Lisa, Karl learns that his brother is part of the Edelweiss Pirates, a group of German young people who defied Hitler and the Hitler Youth during WWII.
With his new knowledge of his brother’s activities, the Fuhrer’s callous and destructive policies, and his neighbors’ suspicions, Karl must learn how to behave in a society that no longer trusts its citizens as well as a community that believes compliance to governmental policies must be followed at all costs. Additionally, Karl needs to rethink his own ideas of the war and his brother’s activities. Following his brother one evening, Karl realizes just how dangerous his brother’s activities are. When his brother is caught and held by the local Gestapo. Karl feels the need to help his brother and begins his own activities against the Hitler regime.
Thinking of how literature can be a key to unlocking possibilities, My Brother’s Secret opens up readers’ minds to how young people have taken courageous steps to right the wrongs perpetrated by their governments. This exciting middle grade narrative would make a great companion to books such as Traitor by Ruth Pausewang (2006) and Black Radishes by Susan Lynn Meyer (2011), novels that present remarkable stories of youth who defied the Nazi regime during WWII. This book would make a great addition to any text set that addresses internal conflict regardless of circumstances, and would make an interesting companion to My Cousin’s Keeper by Simon French (2014) in which the young protagonist must decide whether to protect his cousin from bullying or go along with the popular group that does the bullying.
Dan Smith writes for both teens and adults. His books for teens include Boy X (2016), Big Game (2015) and My Friend, My Enemy (2014). Big Game has been adopted for the big screen starring Samuel L. Jackson. Dan Smith typically writes survival stories, a practice that began when he was in boarding school and more interested in adventures than his classroom environment. He lives in the United Kingdom, and more about him and his work can be found at his website. The book was named a USBBY Outstanding International Book in 2016.
Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH
WOW Review, Volume VIII, Issue 4 by Worlds of Words is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Based on work at https://wowlit.org/on-line-publications/review/viii-4/