The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow
Young Adult Historical Fiction
First edition, hardcover
Fourteen-year-old Karl Stern has never thought of himself as a Jew. But to the bullies at his school in Naziera 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?
(book cover image and blurb are from goodreads)
This book is not what it seems. It's freaktastically better.
Don't be fooled by the title or the cover. I mean, I totally love the cover (that guy has really nice hands), and the title fits the story, but at the same time, they can be misleading. Although Karl's boxing training is a HUGE part of this story, it is about SO MUCH more than just boxing.
And this isn't just another "Anne Frank" book. In fact, it's nothing like the story of Anne Frank, despite being set in the exact same time period. Karl's experience as a Jew in Nazi-era Berlin is worlds different than Anne's. He doesn't practice religion. He doesn't even *look* like a Jew. This makes things extremely interesting as the story moves along. Secrets are kept and ultimately exposed, and I have to credit the author with how well he kept me guessing--I never knew how any one person was going to react when they learned of Karl's Jewish heritage. It truly kept me on the edge of my seat.
But the thing I liked best about this story was the portrayal of relationships between Karl and every other character he encounters, even the minor ones. Karl is 14 when the story begins and 17 when it ends, and his growth as a character is both external and internal. The relationships I thought were especially fabulous in this story were: Karl and his very Jewish-looking younger sister; Karl and his emotionally distant father; Karl and "the Countess", a homosexual cross-dresser; Karl and his stuttering corner-man, Neblig. I also really enjoyed Karl's sketches throughout the story, especially those of "Winzig und Spatz", as they relate to him and his sister.
The emotional impact of the story is compounded by the ever-increasing hate crimes against Jews. But again, it's not exactly like the story of Anne Frank. It is more outwardly public, since Karl and his family do not (technically) go into hiding. For this reason, and the others I mentioned above, I highly recommend this book for teens and adults. It is a serious contender for my "best read of 2011." 5 of 5 stars.