book review: The Boy Who Dared (Susan Campbell Bartoletti)

Bartoletti is probably best-known for her award-winning work of non-fiction, Hitler Youth. With her novel The Boy Who Dared, Bartoletti shows off a great storytelling talent, as well as the meticulous research behind this story that brings it to life.

The Boy Who Dared is the true story of Helmuth Hübener, a German teen in World War II who stood up to the Nazis by distributing leaflets against the Nazi regime. He is one of the teens mentioned in Bartoletti’s Hitler Youth book.

So why a novel, and not another non-fiction book? What makes this story fiction is the lively dialog and very specific actions of the character that Bartoletti could only infer from research. Her informative author’s note describes what she did to dig for the details that help color the novel with a broad swath of reality.

The tension and intrigue transform The Boy Who Dared into a real-life spy novel, as the clock ticks up to Hübener’s final moments in prison before execution. Bartoletti gives us a real sense of how terrifying this must have been for him, placing us there in the cell with him, as the prison guards approach.

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