Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Shadow on the Mountain

Shadow on the Mountain, a middle grade novel by Margi Preus, deserves its place on the Kirkus list of the best children's books in 2012. That the story is historical fiction set in World War 11 drew me to the book immediately, but that the story is set in Norway during the Nazi take-over, made it even more compelling and different.

Think Nordic ski racing through mountains and Nazi soldiers fumbling to keep up with the resistance fighters. Think strange food like brown cheese (a treat in Norway), and a cold white snowy world. The chapters are short, fast moving.

It's the theme of friendship that interests me here, and middle grade readers will see themselves in this story. Adolescence is a time when friends often go separate ways. Today, perhaps a girl chooses basketball and her friend cheerleading. A boy might discover music, and his friend dedicates his time to sports.

But what happens to a boy named Espen loses his best friend Kjell to the Nazi youth movement in 1944? After Espen sees his best friend in a car with German Soldiers, he is puzzled and understands:

. . . Kjell was . . . different. He had changed. But then everything had changed. The Germans had taken over Norway, and nothing was the same as before. 

Espen becomes a resistance fighter, a hero, at the opposite end of the political spectrum. At the climax, is there a shred of loyalty in Kjell's heart towards his childhood friend, Espen, whose life is on the line, and in Kjell's hands?

Shadow on the Mountain will stimulate a nuanced discussion about what loyalty and friendship means.

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