Any book about World War II is bound to be a tough, tense read filled with moments of heartbreak. But nothing could have prepared me for the gut-punch I felt while reading The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by John Boyne, the remarkable story of an orphaned boy who finds himself living in the home of Adolf Hitler.
When Pierrot becomes an orphan, he must leave his home in Paris for a new life with his Aunt Beatrix, a servant in a wealthy household at the top of the German mountains. But this is no ordinary time, for it is 1935 and the Second World War is fast approaching; and this is no ordinary house, for this is the Berghof, the home of Adolf Hitler.
Quickly, Pierrot is taken under Hitler’s wing, and is thrown into an increasingly dangerous new world: a world of terror, secrets and betrayal, from which he may never be able to escape.
The Boy at the Top of the Mountain is at times heartbreaking, horrific, and deeply disturbing. Your heart aches for the young Pierrot, who loses everything and finds hope in a new life with his aunt. But as World War II unfolds, Pierrot finds himself falling under the influence of Hitler, intoxicated by the attention and power the Fuhrer bestows on him.
It’s upsetting, as a reader, to see how Pierrot changes for the worse as events unfold. In this simple story of one boy, Boyne demonstrates how so many fell under Hitler’s spell; how evils were overlooked, ignored, and even, sometimes, justified. It’s an unsettling but deeply honest look at the human flaws that allowed the atrocities of World War II to happen.
The Boy at the Top of the Mountain covers many years of Pierrot’s life, spanning years before and after the war. And as we see Pierrot’s ultimate attempt at redemption, Boyne delivers a truly gut-wrenching twist that I, for one, did not see coming at all. An already tragic story, this surprise had me unexpectedly bawling over the book’s final pages. It was both devastating and uplifting at once — which, I know, sounds impossible — but Boyne pulls it off with aplomb.
Look for this stunning portrayal of love, sacrifice, and redemption, in stores tomorrow.