Recommended for: Middle and YA Readers
Thank you Netgalley, Macmillian Children’s Publishing Group, and John Boyne for selecting me to read and review a digital ARC of this book.
The Boy at the Top of the Mountain begins in 1936 France with 7 year-old Pierrot, his French mother and his German father. Pierrot is a naïve and sweet boy who enjoys spending time with his best friend Anshel and his dog. As the climate shifts and the start of World War II looms, things start changing rapidly for Pierrot. His father is struggling with PTSD and mental health issues after his experiences in World War I and takes his own life. His mother is doing her best to make ends meet, but she becomes ill with TB and also passes away.
After the death of his parents, Pierrot is taken in by Anshel’s family, but as a Jewish family, his mother is very uncomfortable with the tension that is arising as the World War II approaches. For Pierrot’s safety she sends him to an orphanage where he stays for a short time before his father’s sister, Aunt Beatrix, finds him and brings him to live with her.
When Pierrot arrives at the house, he is told that this is one of the houses of the Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler. His aunt works as housekeeper there and serves Adolf and Eva Braun on their visits.
Immediately Pierrot is given a list of very important rules and changes he must make in order to not anger, Adolf Hitler. Most importantly, and somewhat a foreshadowing of what is to come, he has to change his name to make it more German. He becomes Pieter when he is at the house. At first he struggles with the idea of changing his name, but as his character evolves, Pieter becomes a totally different person than when he was called Pierrot.
Under the wing and influence of Adolf Hitler, Pieter turns away from his French heritage, his best friend, and honestly his soul. He becomes cold, uncaring, and entitled to a point where I truly didn’t like him at all. It actually became difficult to read his story because I wanted so badly to see a hint of the boy he was, or some sort of redeeming quality, but he continued to spiral. He was hard to stomach at times which is a different feeling as a reader. Typically you always root for and grow connected to the main character, Boyne did the exact opposite in this book. It was a very creative and pointed choice that was perfect for the topic and times. It helps the reader realize how this could have happened and how easily manipulated people were during this time under Adolf Hitler. It was hard to read, but made a big impact on me.
The author’s thoughtful transition from Pierrot to Pieter was well done. Early on even when he was called Pieter by other characters, the author still referred to him as Pierrot, but as his character evolved, even the author switched and began calling him Pieter.
Even after all the horrible things he had done, a (very) small part of me still hoped that things would end well, and I wasn’t disappointed by the ending. It was clever and tied things up nicely. It wasn’t a cheesy happy ending that a tiny of me longed for; it was a fitting ending for a difficult text, and I was very satisfied with how it all concluded.
The Boy at the Top of the Mountain will be a solid addition to World War II historical fiction. It is thought-provoking and a bit uncomfortable to read, but it is a necessary piece in teaching and learning about this devastating time period in history.