They came at midnight, splintering the silence with their fists, pounding at our door until Father let them in. I tiptoed to my sister’s bed, threw back the covers and slid in beside her. She was already awake.
‘I hate them,’ I whispered. Mother didn’t like us using the word hate but there was not getting around it; I hated them. I hated their perfectly pressed uniforms and the way they pushed past Father, dragging the mud from their boots across Mother’s Persian rug. I hated them for nailing the synagogue doors shut and for burning our books. But mostly I hated them for how they made me feel: scared and small.
Hanna Mendel has her life mapped out. She will wear her yellow dress to the dance on Saturday night and she will be a famous pianist. Just like her hero Clara Schumann. But she assumes a reasonable world. And in the days of WWII, there is a lack of reason. She and her family have been fortunate until now – even when a ghetto is declared in their Budapest street, they do not have to move. But then they are herded into rail cars and sent to Auschwitz. Nothing could have prepared her – or anyone – for the horrors of Auschwitz. Hanna’s growing understanding of the environment she now inhabits leads her to desperation and despair. Throughout, she uses her music as an island of calm in her increasingly turbulent world. And then she sees Karl, handsome son of the cruel camp commandant.
Some teenagers transition from child to adult with only minor hiccups. Others, like Hanna and her sister Erika, have their childhood ripped from them in ways almost too brutal to believe. Except that evidence makes it impossible to refute. Some respond to the brutality by giving up, others by fighting. It’s impossible to imagine which response any individual will form, until they are faced with the unfaceable. Ignorance can be damaging, it can be protective. In The Wrong Boy, there are examples of many survival strategies. There are no longer any simple solutions or simple judgements that can be made. Characters are flawed and changeable, good and evil, and sometimes a mixture of both. Hanna is forged strong by her experiences, by the same characteristics that have enabled her to excel at piano-playing. ‘The Wrong Boy’ draws a compelling picture of life in a prison camp from the point of view of a determined but naïve teenage girl. Recommended for secondary readers.
The Wrong Boy, Suzy Zail Black Dog Books 2012 ISBN: 9781742031651
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author
This book is available from good bookstores or online from Fishpond.