Robert Sharenow (HarperTeen, 2011, 404 pp.)
In this historical novel set in 1936 Berlin, fourteen-year-old Karl Stern, considered Jewish despite his assimilated upbringing, learns to box with legendary German boxing champ Max Schmeling while struggling with the harsh realities of the Holocaust.
The good stuff
- Setting and tone – Sharenow creates a credible world. Could feel as if I’m right there in Berlin in the ‘30s.
- Emotion – Sharenow evoked so much emotion for his main character Karl – Karl with his sister, his parents, with Greta, Nebling, Max, and the Countess
- Character transformation – Karl evolved through his own training and the challenges of the times
- Complex character development – For Karl’s mother to soak in the tub for hours on end, for Karl’s father to be a war hero, for Karl’s uncle to call him buckaroo – these are all great developments in a complex cast of characters
- Unique character attributes – Sharenow imbues Karl with the ability to draw and write comic strips, injecting humor, reflection, and a way to deepen Karl’s relationship with his sister. And by giving Karl the opportunity to learn boxing to protect himself from his Hitler Youth classmates, Sharenow provides the tools for Karl to evolve and nature in a way that’s believable for a boy his age
- Research – It’s clear Sharenow conducted meticulous research into the lives of German Jews in Berlin during this crucial period
The not-so-good stuff
- Small inconsistencies – like saying four boys when there were five
- American terminology instead of translated German terminology
- Using German to say thank you and yes seemed unuseful
Overall summary: 5.0 out of 5.0
Look for an interview with author Robert Sharenow in a soon-to-be-published The Whole Megillah post!