Unbreakable by Rebecca Barone

Unbreakable makes the complicated story of unlocking the Enigma code accessible for young readers.

Unbreakable: The Spies Who Cracked the Nazis’ Secret Code by Rebecca E. F. Barone.  Henry Holt, 2022, 239 pages.

Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 10-12

Recommended for: ages 10-15

If you know anything about World War II, you’ve heard of “Enigma,” the code system that helped Nazi forces, particularly U-Boats, wreak havoc among the Allies until its secrets were finally unlocked. Unbreakable fleshes out the mystery of Enigma with interesting personalities and little-known facts. I didn’t know, for instance, that Enigma was developed by the Germans an entire decade before the war began. Or that Polish intelligence cracked the earliest version of it, after which the Polish code-breakers had to flee for their lives when their country was invaded.

The Germans then added layers of complication to the system, which became a headache to the better-known team of British mathematicians and analysts. After the first significant breakthrough spearheaded by Alan Turing, Enigma was upgraded again, and it took many months before the British team, aided by the British navy, was able to capture enough information to break through the final version.

This complex story moves swiftly–almost too swiftly if readers aren’t paying close attention. It’s easy to lose track of the many major players, but a character list in the Epilogue helps. Breaking the Enigma code, according to some estimates, probably shortened the War by at least three years, saving countless lives and avoiding even more devastation of Europe. Besides the names we know, hundreds of navy commanders, sailors, and women’s auxiliary members who tended the “bombes” (calculating machines) contributed vital support to this effort. Unbreakable gives them the credit they deserve.

Considerations:

  • There’s a small amount of quoted profanity, which in some cases (e.g., “For God’s sake) may not be entirely profane.
  • Alan Turing is something of a gay icon now, particularly after the release of the movie The Imitation Game. Unbreakable doesn’t mention this in the main text, but the Epilogue briefly treats his prosecution by the British government and eventual suicide. 

Overall Rating: 4 (out of 5)

  • Worldview/moral value: 3.5
  • Artistic/literary value: 4.5

Read more about our ratings here.                 

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Janie Cheaney

Janie is the VERY senior staff writer for Redeemed Reader, as well as a long-time contributor to WORLD Magazine and an author of nine books for children. The rest of the time she's long-distance smooching on her four grandchildren (not an easy task). She lives with her equally senior husband of almost-fifty years in the Ozarks of Missouri.

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