Friday, September 5, 2014
My Friend The Enemy by Dan Smith
It doesn't take long for the whole village to come out to see what happened, including all the children who want to try to get souvenirs from the wreckage. And that's how Peter meets Kim, a girl about his age, with short hair and dressed like a boy. The two become instant friends.
Peter and Kim decide to go back to the wreckage that night to look for their own souvenirs, even sneaking inside the plane. After almost getting caught by the soldiers guarding the plane, the two end up with a gun belonging to one of the dead Germans in it. Running off towards the woods to hide, they stumble upon a third German from the plane, who had parachuted out but was badly hurt.
Seeing the gun, the German begs them not to hurt him and they decide to take him to Peter's hiding place in the woods. They clean him up and over the next few days, they learn that his name is Erik, and the three become friends, as much as that can happen when you can't speak each others language. Hiding and feeding Erik is difficult but Kim is afraid the army will shoot him on the spot and she is convinced that if they take care of Erik, than the same kindness will be shown to her brother Josh, in the RAF, or Peter's father in the army if they shot or injured and found by the enemy.
Peter, however, just wants his dad to come home. Than maybe Mr. Bennett, who owns most of the land surrounding the village, who stop coming around to see his mother so much. And maybe the older boys in the village will stop bullying him so much about his mother and Mr. Bennett.
Things get more complicated, but in the end, all the elements of this story come together in an exciting, maybe a little predictable, but definitely satisfying denouement.
I found myself immediately pulled into My Friend the Enemy. It is a compelling story right from the start. Peter is a sensitive boy, a bit of a loner and rather timid who seems to have spent much of his time with his dad, the gameskeeper for Mr. Bennett's land. Kim, on the other hand, is a confident girl. a bit of a tomboy, and not the least bit afraid of standing up to bullies older and much bigger than she is.
It is also an exciting story, with plenty of action and historical detail. Times were tough during the war, food was in short supply and people lived their lives in fear of bombing raids. Smith incorporates all that into his story, giving the dilemmas Peter wrestles with - to help a German soldier, to steal food from his mother to feed Erik, to accept Mr. Bennett's help even as he begins to suspect the bullies are right about him and his mother - a very realistic quality so necessary in good historical fiction.
I did like that it takes place in the same north-eastern area of England as Robert Westall's book and, in fact, My Friend The Enemy did remind me somewhat of books by this favorite author. Unlike the Blitz in London, the north eastern coast was one of the places that was bombed only because German planes were dumping them to lighten their load as they returned home from a bombing raid, a fact Dan Smith includes in his novel, but not a place you read about much in WWII books for young readers. My Friend The Enemy gives readers another perspective on the war as it happened in England.
Young readers will definitely find this a book to their liking, especially readers interested in WWII and what like was like on the home front for kids around their age.
This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an E-ARC obtained from NetGalley