The Boy Who Dared

By: Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Star Rating:



Spoiler Disclaimer


Young Helmuth Hubener grew up in Nazi Germany when Hitler was rising to power. Even though he was forced to join the Hitler Youth, the Nazi leader and his agenda never sat well with Helmuth. He did what he had to do to graduate from school, but after graduation, Helmuth felt a burning need to take action. When his older brother brings home a forbidden radio that he purchased on the black market, Helmuth can't resist listening to it each night after his grandparents are asleep. Through the BBC broadcast, he learns the truth of what is happening in the war, and it is far different than the picture the German Fuhrer paints. Helmuth comes up with the idea of writing down everything he can remember from each broadcast and distributing the flyers to other German citizens, so they too can know the truth. He even enlists the help of three good friend, but when the Gestapo discover their illegal activities, Helmuth and his friends may pay the ultimate price. 


The Boy Who Dared is an inspiring work of historical fiction based on the real life exploits of a German teenager who dared to defy Hitler's edicts during World War II and payed the ultimate price for his bravery. I'm sure most tweens and teens today have some awareness through their history classes of the atrocities committed by Hitler against the Jews, but I wonder how many know of the thousands of non-Jewish Germans who were tortured, imprisoned and even put to death for their beliefs. This book would be a great starting point for young people to learn more about the German Resistance movement. It also imparts a strong message about thinking for oneself and not becoming a blind follower, as well as standing up for what's right even in the face of impossible odds or even death.

Helmuth Hubener was a boy who did exactly that. I was very impressed by how intuitive he was. Even at a young age, Helmuth seemed to have an instinctive sense of right and wrong. He was never entirely comfortable with the things Hitler did and became even less so as Hitler imposed even more restrictions upon the German people. In school, Helmuth wrote what he had to to make it sound like he supported the Reich but hated every minute of it. He also was forced to join the Hitler Youth, but again was not comfortable with their activities. After graduating, Helmuth got an apprenticeship with a company where he was shocked to find forbidden books in the basement. He began borrowing them, and they continued to solidify his belief that Hitler was lying and he must do something to enlighten his fellow Germans. When Helmuth's brother came home from Reich Labor Service with an illegal radio he purchased on the black market, it proves too much of a temptation for Helmuth. Every night he listens to the BBC and learns the truth about what's really happening in the war. This only further fuels his anger until he comes up with the idea of producing pamphlets and flyers detailing the things he learns on the radio and passing them on to other people. He and three friends daringly acted alone as a small insular pocket of resistance against Hitler's reign of terror.

I can't even imagine how much courage it must have required to take a stand like that. I was only reading a fictionalized account of these events long after they happened and could still feel the fear and tension emanating off the pages of the book. I know that sometimes extraordinary circumstances can make ordinary people do things they might never have thought themselves capable of, but what makes this story so notable is the age of its protagonist. Helmuth began his subversive activities when he was only sixteen, and even before that, he was a very intelligent and articulate young man. Just these actions alone could be called heroic, but when he was arrested at the age of seventeen, he essentially fell on his own sword so to speak, taking as much of the blame upon himself as he could and even goading the judges, so that his friends lives might be spared. I think Helmuth's example of standing up for what's right is one that all teens can and should learn from.

The narrative of The Boy Who Dared jumps back and forth between Helmuth in prison on death row and past events starting in his early childhood leading up to his imprisonment. In my opinion, this added some suspense to the story because it kept me wondering how he got there and if there was any hope of him being pardoned. The book is written in present tense. I don't think I've ever read a book written like this, so it took me just a little while to get into it. Once I adjusted to the unfamiliar writing style, I was completely engrossed by the story. Although the author used her own imagination to fill in the missing pieces of Helmuth's life, I would say, based on her notes at the end of the book, that she did her homework extremely well, trying to bring as much authenticity to the story as possible. She even had the privilege of personally interviewing Helmuth's brother and one of the friends who also went to prison for helping him. By reading this book, I felt that I learned not only about the life of a heroic person, but a few other historical details as well (eg. I had no idea the guillotine was still in use during WWII or that there were Mormons in Germany at that time). If one pays attention, I think this book could also be a cautionary tale of taking care not to repeat the mistakes of the past. I have to say that I found Hitler's words very disconcerting, because of the fact that some politicians of the present day use similar rhetoric.

Overall, The Boy Who Dared was an amazing and inspiring story that I highly recommend. Although it has no truly objectionable content and I felt the author took care not to sensationalize any of the violence, the subject matter is still rather mature. As I mentioned earlier there is a palpable sense of fear which might lead younger and more sensitive readers to fret and worry with good cause for Helmuth's safety. They also may not understand and/or be disturbed by certain events in the story as well as the ending. For this reason, I recommend it for middle grades and up, but it is definitely a book from which both kids and adults alike can glean a great message.


Susan Campbell Bartoletti