Katpio Joe: Blitzkrieg, Brian Falkner
The winner of the 2021 Ngaio Marsh Award for Younger Readers, KATIPO JOE is an almost pitch perfect vehicle for older kids (12+) to get some insights into the reality of war, and how identity can come with consequences, and loyalty is hard.
A 12 year old New Zealand boy living in Berlin in 1938, Joe's parents are diplomats, and they all watch as the Nazi's rise in power, and the mistreatment of local Jews escalates. Discovering his parents are actually spies causes a big enough shock in Joe's world, but when is father is arrested by the Gestapo, Joe and his mother manage to get out of Germany, by the skin of their teeth. Joe's mother heads for London, but sends him home to the safety of New Zealand at the same time, although by 1941 Joe has stowed away, heading for London, in search of his mother. By then it's 1941, he arrives in the middle of the blitz, bombs falling all around, only to discover the addresses on his mother's letters don't exist. A brief sighting of her outside Churchill's War Rooms becomes the last he knows of her, as he finds out that she's then presumed dead in a bombing.
His presence has been noticed however, and he's recruited by MI5 on the most dangerous of missions - to infiltrate the Hitler Youth movement, and assassinate a prominent Nazi general.
Styled very much as an adventure novel, this reads like a rip-snorting thriller, but, even if you've not read the blurb, there's an underlying sense of truth in this story, with historical accuracy and authority. Joe's such a believable, sympathetic, tricky character he leaps off the page, whether he's reeling from the mistreatment of Jews, determined to get out of the safety of New Zealand to be with his mother where he believes he belongs, or taking up such a dangerous and deadly mission. Arriving in London at the height of the blitz his fear is palpable, as is his determination, and his sense of right and wrong - which takes a battering and somehow returns time and time again.
If, as the blurb puts it, the story of KATIPO JOE is "Inspired by true events, ... a story of incredible heroism, unlikely friendships and unbearable tragedy, set against the backdrop of World War II." then we need more Joes in this world, and a lot less war. Here's hoping a lot of young people get a chance to read books like this, and to work through the challenges it raises.
Young Joe is living in pre-WWII Berlin, with his British father and NZ mother, attending school and witnessing the excitement of his friends who are enthusiastically joining the Hitler Youth Movement. Joe feels uncomfortable with the growing mistreatment of local Jews, and after the arrest of his father as a spy, he is forced to escape from Berlin with his mother. Joe is separated from his mother and evacuated to New Zealand, and, while war looms in Europe, he is frustrated by his distance from the action, and his inability to do anything about finding his father. After a harrowing route back to Europe, Joe attempts to infiltrate the Hitler Youth movement in Germany while at the same time searching for his mother and father in wartime Berlin.