When the Nazi’s invade Norway during WWII, 14 year old Espen and his friends are swept up into the Resistance movement. Espen starts small by delivering illegal newspapers that combat the Nazi propaganda, and gradually becomes more and more involved by becoming a courier and finally a spy. He must dodge the Gestapo along the way, keep his every thought and movement close to his vest, not let his family or friends know what he’s doing or where he’s going. It’s too dangerous, for him and for them. When the danger he’s evaded for 5 years threatens to catch up with him, Espen must attempt a daring escape on skis over the mountains to Sweden, before it’s too late.
What I liked:
This story brought up some great points that I think are often over-looked or completely forgotten in WWII historical fiction–that not all Germans are cruel sadists with the same horrible principals as Hitler. Along those same lines, not all of the people in Nazi occupied countries were against the occupation; some downright believed and supported the ’cause’, and were the stereotypical Nazi.
This distinction was shown, particularly, in the character of Aksel-a Norwegian boy who joined the Nazi’s and did everything he possibly could to move up the ranks, gain power, prestige and respect. Along those same lines, Espen’s friends often talked about the German soldiers where the point was made that many of them didn’t want to be in Norway anymore than the Norwegians wanted them to be there. And this was compounded by the general cold shoulder approach that most Norwegians took toward their occupiers by not to sit next to them in public spaces, or refusing to take part in the ‘fun’ activities planned.
I also liked the every day acts of kindness that happened, the ones that connect and bond people in trying times. Even if it’s just giving someone hungry a waffle, or a hug, or what have you. These small moments really made the book seem real and believable.
It was nice that this story also didn’t focus too much on the romance between Espen and Solveig. Yes, we know they like one another, but the story sticks to what it says it’s about–Espen being a spy. I like this distinction because if a kid picks this book up looking to read about a boy skiing through the mountains, being pursued by Nazi’s, and then gets a boy with moon-eyes, sneaking kisses and pining after a girl, it’s disappointing (and maybe disgusting–depending on the age/gender reading).
What I didn’t like:
As seems to be my general complaint with kid lit, I want more: more character development, more back story, more motivation, more explanation…more, more, more. I’m not talking heavy politics, or why WWII happened, I’m talking about how Espen got involved delivering newspapers in the first place. Who started him on that path? The reader knows Espen’s father is also involved, but who started this network? Those are interesting ideas to ponder, and not necessarily essential to the plot; we know what Espen does, and it’s how those skills translate into his new missions, and how they propel him forward. But, being that this is a novel primarily about a teenage spy, I think a little more of the espionage aspects would not have gone amiss. There’s something so fascinating about them!
All in all, this was an entertaining book that you should give a try. Most appropriate for 11-14 year olds.