I Am Defiance by Jenni L. Walsh

I Am Defiance by Jenni L. Walsh. Scholastic Press, 2021. 9781338630763

Format: Uncorrected Proof

Rating:  1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

 Genre: Historical fiction

 What did you like about the book?  12-year-old Brigitte has grown up in Nazi Germany under the careful protection of her Papa, a university professor, and her older sister Angelika, a polio survivor who must hide her limp in order to avoid scrutiny by Nazi soldiers.  Brigitte and her family live in Munich, and she loves attending meetings of the Young Maidens (the girls’ branch of the Hitler Youth) with her best friend Marianne.  Brigitte and her friends have never known any government other than the Third Reich, and they are well-indoctrinated to believe in the principles they are taught.  When anonymous leaflets begin arriving in people’s mail from an organization calling itself the White Rose, encouraging people to resist and fight for freedom, it seems at first shocking that anyone could question Hitler’s authority or challenge any Nazi rules.  Even more concerning for Brigitte is overhearing Papa and Angelika talk as if they agree with what the leaflets are saying.  The family lives in constant fear of bombings by the British Air Force, which are happening all over Germany, and now Brigitte must also fear for the safety of her sister as Angelika appears to be involved with a student resistance movement.  After witnessing several incidents of Nazi cruelty, and learning more about Hitler’s true intent, Brigitte becomes a resistance fighter in her own way, and makes a very bold move to help both her family and the White Rose. 

I Am Defiance should be a welcome addition to the crowded field of World War II fiction for middle grades, in that it offers the somewhat unique perspective of a German child engaged in the Hitler Youth. The events chronicled in the book are based on true events, as are some of the characters (in particular Angelika’s friend Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans, leaders of the White Rose), and I think learning that there was resistance within Germany may be surprising for some young readers.  Brigitte is an admirable heroine with a fresh voice and a brave spirit.  Some authors of historical fiction try too hard for their narrators to sound authentic by replicating the vernacular of the time period, with the end result coming out kind of stilted and phony instead. Walsh does not do that with Brigitte – she simply speaks like a 12-year-old girl, and it makes her more approachable and likable for readers.  Violence and hateful acts are more implied than explicit, making it a good fit for elementary students, but there is a lot to unpack in terms of politics and philosophy.  This is an exciting, interesting, and important book. 

Anything you did not like about the book?  No 

 To whom would you recommend this book? Upper elementary and middle school readers who have enjoyed books such as Making Bombs for Hitler, The War That Saved My Life or Number the Stars will definitely appreciate this book and want to learn more about the resistance movement within Germany.  It is an excellent precursor for Kip Wilson’s YA novel White Rose.

Who should buy this book? Public, elementary and middle school libraries

Where would you shelve it?  Fiction

 Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?  no

 Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City:  Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts.

Date of review: 3/15/2021

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