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The Boy Who Dared

Review

The Boy Who Dared

“The executioner works on Tuesdays.”

The first page sets the mood for this haunting work of historical fiction, which is based on the life of Helmuth Guddat Hubner, a member of the Hitler Youth and the title character of THE BOY WHO DARED. Susan Campbell Bartoletti has taken one episode from her Newbery Honor Book, HITLER YOUTH, and fleshed it out into a thought-provoking novel.

The story begins on day 264 of Helmuth’s imprisonment by the Nazis. In a cold prison cell he reflects on his past while waiting to find out if he has a future --- or if he will be put to death for being “an enemy of the state.”

In his cell, Helmuth remembers his mother, Mutti, and older half-brothers, Hans and Gerhard. He also looks back with fondness on his special closeness with his grandparents, Oma and Opa, who care for Helmuth and his brothers while Mutti, a single mother, works nights.

Life is not easy for his family or for the German people after losing the Great War (World War I). At school Helmuth learns how the Treaty of Versailles --- the peace agreement that ended the Great War in 1918 --- has forced Germans to make costly reparations, which have led to unemployment, poverty and inflation. Even more, the treaty has caused shame and humiliation to the once proud and cultured German people, who gave the world Brahms, Beethoven and Bach.

Growing up, Helmuth remembers hearing strong opinions of neighbors and family members after Adolf Hitler, leader of the National Socialist Party and newly elected chancellor of the Third Reich, promises to make Germany strong again. Soon after Hitler comes to power, young Helmuth is entranced with the parades of “brown-shirted men wearing red-and-black armbands and tall, black, shiny boots.” He vows to fight for the Fatherland, and Hugo Hubner, a Nazi soldier who becomes Helmuth’s stepfather, is proud of his decision to join the Hitler Youth.

Helmuth is a bright and outspoken lad who yearns for the truth. He finds comfort in the Church of the Latter Day Saints and his Mormon faith. As Hitler and the Nazis gain a stranglehold throughout Germany, Helmuth witnesses patriotism turn to fanaticism. Neighbors turn against neighbors, books critical of Hitler are burned, and radios linking Germans to the outside world are seized as the Nazi leader’s quest for power spreads across Europe.

After seeing a classmate scorned and beaten up for being Jewish, and later watching a Jewish neighbor who served nobly in the Great War get hauled off by Nazi stormtroopers, Helmuth becomes disillusioned and vows to take action. But can one teenage boy stand up against the Nazis? If so, how and at what risk?

THE BOY WHO DARED is a story about having the courage to act upon one’s beliefs, no matter one’s age or the risks and consequences involved. Bartoletti’s use of flashbacks builds the suspense, and her inclusion of numerous photos, along with a Third Reich timeline, complement the experience of reading this memorable novel.

Reviewed by Donna Volkenannt on February 1, 2008

The Boy Who Dared
by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

  • Publication Date: February 1, 2008
  • Genres: Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press
  • ISBN-10: 0439680131
  • ISBN-13: 9780439680134