by Karen Bass
Seventeen-year-old Erich is a prisoner of war working at a northern Alberta logging camp. Twelve-year-old Max goes to school—reluctantly—in the nearby town. The two would be unlikely friends, except that neither has anyone else to turn to. At the height of World War II, nobody wants to befriend a German.
This book is set mostly in the Peace River region of Alberta during World War II. The main character is Erich Hofmeyer, a young German soldier, who was captured when his ship was destroyed. He suffered burns, was treated, and then ended up in a POW camp near Lethbridge.
Erich speaks English fluently as his mother’s parents live in England. He was visiting them just before war broke out and reflects sometimes on this timing. Erich’s father forced him to enlist after he graduated from high school at sixteen, and he is now seventeen.
Erich is bullied by other POWs who have Nazi sympathies and, when they are aware of his English skills, want him to spy for them. When an incident occurs, Erich is giving a chance to join a work gang as a lumberjack in the Peace region, and jumps at it. Being a city boy, he finds the lack of amenities difficult to get used to, but the environment is pleasant, and the man who owns the land is fair. Erich gets to know the other men he works with, both Canadians and prisoners, and finds good and bad in both. He also finds Henry, the man he works for a fatherly figure. Their hired girl Cora is not disposed to look on Germans kindly, but their similarity in age begins to bridge their differences.
Erich also befriends Max, a younger boy who lives in the area. Max is being bullied because of his father being German, and feels increasingly isolated. His contact with Erich gives him not only camaraderie, but also a confidant for some of his issues.
Another young man, Christmas, is also isolated, as a native who doesn’t talk much, but works hard. Christmas is fond of Max, and the boy becomes a bridge between the two young men who care about him.
This is a story of prejudice, of bullying behaviour, of people being able to change their views based on experience and knowledge rather than generalizations. This is a story of friendship and coming of age for Erich. Good characters with depth and insight.
(This review has appeared elsewhere.)