Boyne, John. The Boy at the Top of the Mountain. Holt, 2015. $16.99. 262p. ISBN 978-1-62779-030-7. Ages 11+. P7Q10
The author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, the friendship between a nine-year-old Auschwitz prisoner and the son of a Nazi officer, has returned with another dark World War II novel for youth. The new novel describes the way in which a sweet, generous boy of seven can be transformed into a cold, heartless teenager by his worship of Adolf Hitler. Pierrot, an orphan who is friends with a deaf Jewish boy, is taken by his aunt to live in Hitler’s Austrian retreat where she is a housekeeper. His worship of Der Fuehrer leads the newly named Pieter to so protect the dictator that the child is responsible for the killings of those he formerly loved. Which is better—the bullied or the bully? That is the question that Boyne delineates in the mind of a child, a problem that children are faced with today in our volatile situation. The author shows the changes in Pieter so slowly that they can seem almost natural—and thus even more frightening. The title is a study of how poor self-esteem and loneliness can lead to a horribly dark place if guided by an evil person who allows only experiences and reading material of a violent, controlling nature.
Verdict: Adults may benefit more from this book because young readers don’t have the background, but the plotting and characterization can be equally chilling for both ages.
January 2017 review by Nel Ward.