By Monika Schroder
Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, $17.99, 224 pages
Set in Berlin in the final days of World War I, 16 year old Moritz is a young man whose loyalties – both to his family and to his country – are torn. Left fatherless by the war, Moritz struggles to find understanding as his soldier brother returns from Germany’s Western front – wounded and broken, yet still steadfast in support of the Kaiser; even as his revolutionist mother actively participates in the Socialist overthrow of the old regime. There is a palpable poignancy to My Brother’s Shadow and readers as young as middle school will identify with Moritz as he stands at the edge of manhood, with war, loss and first love all weighing equally heavy on his mind.
“I need to find a better place to hide. The police will soon be up on the stage and when they go through the curtain layers they will find me. I scan the floor and notice a trapdoor. I try the handle and it opens easily. There is a short ladder leading to a dark space under the stage. As I climb down the ladder, the curtain rustles. I look up to see women’s boots and the hem of a skirt next to me. I can’t see a face as the person crouches down, trying to hide in a fold of the curtain.
“Hello?” I whisper.”
Author Monika Schröder, a native of Berlin, expertly crafts a compelling story with strong, sympathetic characters and readers will share Moritz’s divided allegiance as they too struggle to determine who and what is right. Although the dialog occasionally seems somewhat expository in tone, the story avoids being too heavy-handed or sentimental. Overall, My Brother’s Shadow is an outstanding work of historical fiction that will educate young readers and get them thinking about this lesser known, often overlooked period of history.