In her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott says, “For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.”


My hope is that this is what books become to you—as important as almost anything else on earth. This blog is about helping you find the miracle in these small, flat, rigid squares of paper while you are in middle school and beyond. Once you read alongside me, you are forever a member of my tribe of readers. No matter how you old you are, when you need to be reminded of the power of a good story, you will find me here, waiting to place one in your hands.

Monday, January 6, 2014

THE BERLIN BOXING CLUB by Robert Sharenow


copyright date: 2011
primarily marketed for: young adults (teens)

The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow opens with this quote:
“There is one kind of sport which should be especially encouraged, although many people . . . consider it brutal and vulgar, and that is boxing . . . There is no other sport which equals this in developing the militant spirit, none that demands such a power of rapid decision or which gives the bod the flexibility of good steel . . . But, above all, a healthy youth has to learn to endure hard knocks.”
-Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
As an opening, it is a perfect representation of Sharenow’s ability to craft a story that is at once rooted in history and grounded in contemporary relevance. 

Karl Stern is a young boy growing up in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power.  He is Jewish by descent, though his family does not identify with or practice Jewish religion or culture.  His Jewish identity serves as the major conflict in the story, but this is a story with many layers. 

Having read a lot of young adult books set during this time period, I am immediately drawn into a story that takes a fresh approach and reveals a piece of history that is new to me.  Sharenow’s story does just that.  However, even more appealing than the history embedded in this story is the fact that Karl is a character who is relevant to today’s teens.  Although his story is set against a historical backdrop, his struggles are universally human.  Ultimately The Berlin Boxing Club is the story of Karl’s search for his own identity—his role within his family, within his country, within an increasingly confusing world.

When his father, who owns an art gallery, makes a deal with his old friend, the famous boxer Max Schmeling, Karl suddenly finds himself training to become a future boxing champion.  It is through boxing that Karl finds confidence, discovers his first love, and escapes the growing restrictions being placed on German Jews.  Boxing is the vehicle by which Karl grows up.

In addition to his dedication to boxing, Karl (and Robert Sharenow) has talent and passion for drawing cartoons, which are peppered throughout the book.  Although they lend a welcome lighthearted quality to the story, there is also a bit of chilling sarcasm created by the juxtaposition of the youthful innocence of the drawings and the harsh reality of the comics’ contents.

Set during a volatile time in human history, this is a powerful story of bullying, friendship, family, romance, art, boxing, discrimination, and hope.
 

2 comments:

  1. Wow. I haven't heard of this one, but sounds great. I'll have to keep an eye out for it

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  2. I am finally getting around to updating my classroom library this year, and of course, your blog is the FIRST place I went to. Already ordering a bunch based on your reviews.

    Thank you, Christy!

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