Monday, October 17, 2011

The Berlin Boxing Club

The Berlin Boxing Club
Robert Sharenow
April 2011
Age Level: YA

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? 
The Berlin Boxing Club is a book that I was a little skeptical about reading. I wasn't entirely sure if I was going to enjoy a book about boxing, but I know that I always enjoy a book set during World War II. Because of this, I decided to give it a shot.

I am so incredibly glad that I gave this book a chance. If I hadn't, I would have missed out on a fascinating novel. Karl is a wonderfully complex character, who wants to stand out as a champion. At the same time, he wants to blend in, in order to be accepted by society in an unforgiving world. Watching Karl grow from the young boy he is at the beginning of the novel, to the man he becomes, is an incredible journey.

I also really enjoyed the illustrations. They provided something like comedic relief when placed next to the dark content of the novel, and it also gave readers an in-depth view of what Karl was drawing and thinking as his life went on.

The only problem I had with this book is the ending, and the reason that is the case is because it ended up somewhere entirely different than I was expecting. In the beginning, you get the sense of where you think the book will go. While I'm glad the book is not predictable in that sense, I still wish there could have been some closure when it comes to Karl's encounters with the people in his life. Although I suppose, considering that Karl not only becomes stronger physically, but mentally as well, the message of the book is that it's better to take the high road out and avoid confrontation. However, I suppose the action-lover in me was hoping for a huge showdown, which didn't happen as I expected.

Overall: even if you are skeptical, pick this book up and give it a chance. It surprised me, so it might surprise others as well. It's a great book about adolescence and growing up, and it's also set in a time where growing up might not be quite as simple as it is today.

PS. As a side note, I lent this book to a friend and he read it in two days or so. That just goes to show that it's good for girls and guys :)

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