Suspenseful prose and careful research make Bonhoeffer’s brave actions come to life for teen readers.
The Plot to Kill Hitler: Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Spy, Unlikely Hero by Patricia McCormick. Blazer + Bray, 2016. 192 pages.
Reading Level: Middle grade/teen, Ages 12 and up
Recommended For: middle grades and up (ages 10 and up)
Bonhoeffer grew up part of a large family and had a twin sister, Sabine, who was his close companion throughout childhood. Initially, Bonhoeffer pursued the church as a vocation (more than as an outworking of faith), but as his faith and convictions grew, Bonhoeffer’s “ministry” expanded to include subterfuge, plotting against the government, and earnest pleas to the church to rise up against Hitler. Bonhoeffer was one of several involved in an elaborate underground network all trying desperately to overthrow Hitler. Bonhoeffer’s reports of the ultimate Nazi plan for Aryan supremacy to his colleagues in Switzerland were among the first to emerge out of Germany. His brother-in-law (Dohnanyi), a government official, had been keeping a record of Hitler’s crimes that he called the Chronicle of Shame. As the SS became aware of the conspiracy, Bonhoeffer began keeping a fake diary, writing letters in code, and making plans for when he would be captured. The day finally came. Bonhoeffer was captured, his two brothers were also captured, and two of his brothers-in-law were captured as well. His older brother, Walter, had died in WWI, and Bonhoeffer carried Walter’s Bible until he was imprisoned.
This is a biography of Bonhoeffer written for the secular market. Predictably, his faith isn’t spelled out in great detail. But McCormick does a good job of bringing Bonhoeffer to life, and she credits his religious faith and convictions for his bravery and determination to do what was right. Photographs and text boxes fill in the historical gaps for those unfamiliar with the workings of pre-WWII Germany. Bonhoeffer’s early experiences with the African American church in the U.S., his time in Spain, and his seminary for young Germans are also mentioned. Bonhoeffer’s call to the German church of his day to stand up for truth and righteousness, even in the face of sure governmental persecution, is one that rings out to today’s church as well. This is a terrific title with which to engage teens in discussion about the church’s role in social justice issues, the role of the church in government, and when (if ever) it is right to lie and plan a murder.
Cautions: Violence (not graphic, but war-time references in Hitler’s Germany are still stark)
Overall Rating: 4.5
Worldview Rating: 4.5
Artistic Rating: 4.5
We’ve also reviewed Survival and Rescue by Patricia McCormick–check it out!