Front Lines by Michael Grant

Image result for Front linesI don’t normally enjoy history. It’s my worst subject in school, and I can never focus on memorizing facts for tests. Before Front Lines, I have only enjoyed the Dear America series and The Only Thing To Fear by Caroline Richmond. Usually whenever I read one, it feels like I’m in school.

I picked Front Lines off the New Shelf at the Mission Viejo Library because I saw that it was a new Michael Grant book, and I completely freaked out. I didn’t even read the inside cover to see what the book was about until I got home. I originally thought that it was going to be something along the lines of his Gone series, which is still one of my favorite book series. Out of the books I checked out that day, I left this one until the end because I still wasn’t sure that I wanted to read a historical fiction novel.

Front Lines is about an alternate World War II. What if women could fight in the war? The book is told through the perspectives of Rio Richlin, Frangie Marr, and Rainy Schulterman. I think that this book really makes you wonder about how World War II could have been fought differently if women were fighting on the front lines. I’m hoping that a sequel comes out soon. Even though the book is over 500 pages, you still want to know what would happen next.

For people who have fallen in love with the Gone series, I encourage  you to read this book. It’s good for all teens.

-Rebecca V., 8th grade

Front Lines by Michael Grant is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne

boyinthestripedpajamas_johnboyneTo Bruno, Out-With was not a good place. That was where his family moved, away from their perfect life in Berlin. It was all because of Father. Father soon got a pressed uniform and the title of Commandant, which Bruno’s grandmother despised. And then the Fury came to visit, and right after, they moved from Berlin to Out-With. Gretel, Bruno’s older sister who was a “Hopeless Case,” later said it wasn’t pronounced “Out-With” and the man people saluted wasn’t called the “Fury,” but Bruno knew he was correct nonetheless.

Bruno hated his new life at Out-With, being removed from his friends and confined to the general vicinity of the house. He had no friends here, since Gretel was too focused on her dolls and Lieutenant Kotler to pay Bruno any mind. Plus, the house was no longer a five-story structure like the house in Berlin had been. And soon, Mother and Father made Gretel and Bruno attend lessons under Herr Liszt, but they had to learn history, not art and poetry like Bruno wanted.

Bruno, however, began to learn other secrets about his new life, about Maria the maid, Pavel the server, about the people on the other side of the fence that he could see from his bedroom window. The people who all wore the same striped pajamas every day and who were never invited into his house, though the soldiers were somehow invited to the other side of the fence.

This novel was a poignant tale of the Holocaust. Told from the perspective of a naive nine-year-old, the whole situation was simplified to the greatest degree, which amplified the story in my opinion. This book has been on my “to-read” list for years now, and I am fortunate I finally got a chance to read it. In reality, it is a simple read, but the themes presented deal with the moral issues of the Holocaust and thus make this novel suitable to at least a middle school audience. That being said, as a junior in high school, I still found this book touching and would definitely recommend it.

– Leila S., 11th grade

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded from Overdrive

The Unfortunate Decline of Anna Seghers

annaseghersFame. Money. Glory.

For most prominent celebrities, authors, or personalities, the former nouns are essential to their ways of life. However, what happens after a renowned author loses all of their fame and glory?

Anna Seghers, one of the most important German woman writers of the 1900s, definitely knew the answer to that. Before her untimely death, Seghers wrote many outstanding novels during World War II. Her most popular novels included The Excursion of the Dead Girls, Transit, and The Seventh Cross.

Laden with beautifully-developed symbols and leitmotifs, each of her novels condemned Fascism, especially German Fascism under the influence of Adolf Hitler. Although Seghers herself lived in Fascist Germany for a while, she despised any form of Fascist totalitarianism. Her novels are a clear indicator of her anti-Nazi sentiment. Her novels were loved by many people all around the world. Citizens of Allied countries (during and after World War II) read her works fervently as they also fought against Fascism in Europe.

It was near the end of Seghers’ literary career that she started to lose both fame and glory. Although she fought against totalitarianism in Germany, she soon became a part of the Soviet Communist party while in exile. Simultaneously, Seghers condemned Nazism and preached the tenets of Communism.

After Hitler’s death and the end of the war, Seghers resided in the Soviet-controlled part of Germany. She tenaciously stuck to Communist beliefs, even after Stalin’s infamous show trials, where more people were killed than during the Holocaust. Almost immediately, all of her avid readers in the West were lost. Her American and liberal German readers lost interest in any of her other works. Anna Seghers went from a literary “hero” who fought against Fascism to a “traitor” who only carried on totalitarianism.

Seghers became a “spiritual” follower of Communism, taking part in Soviet politics and condoning the deaths of millions of people. Never again were her books ranked as national best-sellers. After her literary decline, Seghers only published two more novels; however, they did not receive any recognition at all. It was not a matter of how well her works were written; rather, it was a matter of what her novels stood for.

Anna Seghers was a phenomenal author; there was no doubt about that. However, it was what her novels preached that led to her gradual decline. Seghers’ unfortunate tale leads us to a very important conclusion: Individuals must always fight against tenets of evil and fight for tenets of good.

-Elaha N.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

allthelightwecannotsee_anthonydoerrNormally, books about World War II are excruciatingly sad, desperate, and hopeless. Yet All the Light We Cannot See comes a hopeful theme and relief from the classic WWII historical fiction novel. Told in a series of sections from different parts of the war, switching between the past and the present, this novel tells the story of Marie-Laure and Werner and the people they encounter throughout the years.

Marie-Laure, a young French girl, lived with her father, the locksmith of the Natural History Museum in Paris. At a young age, she lost her vision, so her life was completely dependent upon her father. Her father took this to heart, building a mini scale model of their city for Marie-Laure to memorize, to the point that she could get around the city unaided.  She even counted storm drains as she walked the museum every day. When the war started, Marie-Laure and her father evacuated, bringing them closer to the action of the novel.

Werner, on the other hand, grew up an orphan in the Zollverein, having the whole responsibility for his younger sister. In order to prevent his future being consumed by working in the coal mine, he applied and received acceptance into one of the government’s schools on account of his extraordinary talent for working with radios. The novel tracks how Werner felt and reacted to what the Nazi party committed during the war, providing a unique perspective on Nazi life.

The novel’s plot is thick with questions, as the novel follows many characters other than Marie-Laure and Werner. With stories about Marie-Laure’s father, a German Sergeant, Werner’s friend from school, and the infamous Sea of Flames diamond, the novel is crafted in an original way that carries the story forward but provides enough details to immerse the reader into the action.

This is certainly a book that is difficult to put down. With so much going on, it was hard to leave one character’s story for a chapter to catch up with the other characters. I would definitely recommend this novel though there are some parts that are sentimental.

– Leila S., 11th grade

All The Light We Cannot See is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download from Overdrive.

The Girl is Murder & The Girl is Trouble by Kathryn Miller Haines

girlistrouble_kathrynmillerhainesThe year is 1942. The setting is New York City. Iris Anderson isn’t any normal teenager. With her dad in the detective business and her mom long gone, she has to fend for herself in her new school. But, as she grows older and starts to meddle in her dad’s business, things aren’t what they seem. Her dad was a naval officer who lost his leg during the attack on Pearl Harbor. But, now he is a private eye, specializing in missing persons. Her mom? She committed suicide six months ago. Iris left behind her rich, affluent life and is now in a dirty public school.

The Girl is Murder

A boy who attends Iris’ school ends up being the subject of a case her father is working on. Naturally, she investigates further. The kid is part of a group of gangsters she met on the first day of school. But how does she get close to them? She makes them her friends; but to do this, she lies. It is not long before they find out Iris’ true identity, and things get complicated.

The Girl is Trouble

girlismurder_kathrynmillerhainesThis book begins as the situation Iris’ and her classmates is nearing a resolution. Iris asks her dad if she can work with him. He puts her on her first case, but it ends up being bogus. Iris’ father can’t trust her, but there is something bigger at hand: her mother’s death. One day as Iris was checking around the house, she notices the safe is open. When she kneels down to close it, pictures of a dead body slip out. Iris doesn’t know what to do next.

The two-part murder mystery series by Kathryn Miller Haines is one that I enjoyed. When I thought I had solved the mystery, the plot turned itself around to be something completely different. So, kudos to Miss Haines, for she developed a character who is rather unpredictable. I would definitely give these books a rating of 10/10!

-Maya S., 8th grade

The Girl Is Trouble and The Girl Is Murder are available for check out from the Mission Viejo Library. 

Saving Amelie by Cathy Gohlke

savingamelie_cathygohlkeIn a cruel world that was once ours in the 1940s, there lived a young woman by the name of Rachel Kramer.  Getting increasingly tired of hearing of her father’s genetic research to create the “perfect” Nordic race for which Hitler strived,  Rachel meets up with her childhood best friend, Kristine.  While the two catch up, they discuss their past life.  Kristine has courted a German SS officer, Gerhardt Schlick.  They even have a four-year-old daughter, Amelie.  However, Kristine tells Rachel with anguish that Amelie is deaf.

A couple days later, Rachel and Kristine find each other again at a banquet dinner also attended by Rachel’s father  and Gerhardt Schlick.  Through all of the presentations and lectures about eliminating the Jews and creating a pure society, Kristine caught the speaker say something about eliminating “imperfect citizens.”  As he continued, Kristine thought about her own child, Amelie.  She was disabled!  What would happen to Amelie if the German soldiers found her?  Kristine became worried and confided in Rachel about her dilemma.  However after a heartbreaking incident, the two are separated.  It is now up to Rachel to carry out Kristine’s plan.  Rachel and her new found friends attempt to save Amelie, much like the title predicts.

I would rate this daring, twisting, and exciting adventure a 10 out of 10.  Its painful story provided a glimpse of life in Germany during WWII and the plan to perfect the Aryan race.  Though devastating, frightening, and uplifting all at the same time, Amelie’s story is quite the historical fiction thrill.

-Maya S., 8th Grade

Saving Amelie is available for check out from the Mission Viejo Public Library

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler by Phillip Hoose

boyswhochallengedhitler_philliphooseThe year is 1940, the dawn of World War II, and Demark is under German attack. Very few are fighting back, taking a stand or doing anything other than watching from the sidelines as disaster unfolds. Knud Pedersen, 15 years old, will not fall without a fight. Knud wants the German soldiers to go home. This reminded me of the song “Get Back” by the Beatles, especially the line “Get back to where you once belonged.” He believed, much like many, that the Germans did not have permission to take control over the Danish.

So, he and his brother, Jens, along with a handful of schoolmates took action against the Nazis unlike their “role model” parents. Knud first put together a group called the RAF club, named after British pilots. Anyone who was willing to prove that they would do anything to rebel and stand tall for Denmark’s freedom was gladly accepted. This was the beginning of their rebellious acts. But, after busting German signs and vandalizing brick walls with their insignia, the Pederson family moved. But, did this stop them? Persevering for what they believed in, in their new town, they organized another group, still without their parents’ knowledge. Naming their secret club after the fiery British leader, the young patriots in the Churchill Club committed countless acts of sabotage, infuriating the Germans, who eventually had the boys tracked down and arrested. But their efforts were not in vain: the boys’ abuse and eventual imprisonment helped ignite a full-blown Danish resistance. Combining his own narrative with the recollections of Knud himself, Phillip Hoose tells this inspiring story of these young war heroes.

At the end of this motivational story, I was reminded of the song, “I Will Be Heard” by Hatebreed. This song just brought back the memories of this book, and how the whole time, the message the Churchill Club was sending was that they wanted to be heard. A short story, but still an empowering one, I would give The Boys Who Challenged Hitler a 10/10 for its gruesome adventure and determination.

-Maya S.

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler is available for check out from the Mission Viejo Public Library.