Sunday, April 15, 2012

Mandy Reviews: The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow

ISBN #: 978-0061579684
Page Count: 400
Copyright: April 26, 2011
Publisher: HarperTeen

Book Summary:
(Taken from dustjacket flaps)

Fourteen-year-old Karl Stern has never thought of himself as a Jew. But to the bullies at his school in Nazi-era Berlin, it doesn't matter that Karl has never set foot in a synagogue or that his family doesn't practice religion. Demoralized by relentless attacks on a heritage he doesn't accept as his own, Karl longs to prove his worth to everyone around him.

So when Max Schmeling, champion boxer and German national hero, makes a deal with Karl's father to give Karl boxing lessons, Karl sees it as the perfect chance to reinvent himself. A skilled cartoonist, Karl has never had an interest in boxing, but as Max becomes the mentor Karl never had, Karl soon finds both his boxing skills and his art flourishing.

But when Nazi violence against Jews escalates, Karl must take on a new role: protector of his family. Karl longs to ask his new mentor for help, but with Max's fame growing, he is forced to associate with Hitler and other Nazi elites, leaving Karl to wonder where his hero's sympathies truly lie. Can Karl balance his dream of boxing greatness with his obligation to keep his family out of harm's way?

Mandy's Review:

This book begins a year after Hitler's rise to power and focuses on Karl's growth from naive boy to responsible, worldly young man.

When the novel first opens, Germans are just beginning to join Hitler's army. And even though Karl does not look like a "normal" Jew, his schoolmates still find out about his Jewish blood and beat him up because of it. At his father's art gallery that same night, Karl meets the famous boxer Max Schmeling. Despite needing the money from an art sale, Karl's father agrees to have Max give Karl boxing lessons as payment.

Through the lessons, Karl learns discipline and a confidence he never knew he could feel. His body also changes from the scrawny kid to a well-toned, muscled young man. He uses his newfound strength to help protect his family from the German soldiers determined to destroy his family's life.

This story is a wonderfully written coming-of-age novel based in the horrible reality of Hitler's reign and the suppression of the Jews. I've read other novels that told about this time period, but The Berlin Boxing Club brought this sordid past to life more for me than any of the other novels I've read. Although the novel was already 400 pages, I wanted it to continue on. I wasn't ready to leave Karl behind and I ended the book having more questions than answers. What became of his parents? Did Karl and Hildy ever reunite in person? Did Max ever return to the U.S. and get his rematch against Joe Louis?

I loved this book. There are many subtleties to this novel that will cause you to think about it long after you've finished.

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