A 13-year-old saboteur in the Hitler Youth meets the challenge of his life in this page-turning World War II thriller.
Projekt 1065 by Alan Gratz. Scholastic, 2016, 309 pages including author note
Reading Level: Middle grades, ages 10-12
Recommended for: ages 12-15
There’s a reason Michael O’Shaunessey, 13, speaks German so well; his father, an Irish diplomat, has been posted in Berlin for five years, even before Germany began the war that now wracks all of Europe. Ireland is officially neutral, but Michael’s parents are running an intelligence operation for the Allies that often involves their son. Being a schoolboy in Nazi Germany means being a member of the Hitler Youth—an advantage for a young spy, especially when his class is recruited to help search for the pilot of a British observation plane shot down outside Berlin. Michael eagerly joins the search, not to catch the pilot but to save him. And when the pilot’s mission to discover plans for a new German aircraft (code-named Projekt 1065) is linked to Michael’s only friend at school, the spy game ratchets up to a new level of tension.
Some of the events stretch credulity, but as the Author Note informs us, Germany in 1943 was desperate enough for manpower to recruit boys as cultural enforcers and home-front defenders, even to manning anti-aircraft guns. They were trained to be tough and fanatical and some of the propaganda pumped into them (taken from Hitler’s own words) is chilling to read. Though flashes of humor lighten the mood at times, Michael’s world is brutal. Before the story ends he will, more than once, be forced to act cruelly in order to accomplish a greater good. This includes beating a classmate almost to death, and not in self-defense. Though not for the fainthearted it’s a worthwhile story and a page-turner besides. Occasional verbal anachronisms aside (“freak out,” “no way”), Berlin in the last years of the war was probably a lot like it’s described. The question of doing wrong to accomplish good (or merely to stop evil) is worth thinking and talking about.
Cautions: Language (crap, mad as hell, God’s name misused twice), Violence (semi-graphic), intense situations
Overall rating: 3.75 (out of 5)