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A Traitor Among Us


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Gr 5-8-Pieter Van Dirk, 13, collects cigarette butts dumped from trains carrying German soldiers as they travel through his town in Nazi-occupied Holland in 1944. He and his friend Jan trade the tobacco for food; it is a highly risky business, but it is essential to their starving families's survival. To add to the danger, Pieter's mother is hiding a wounded Jewish American soldier in their house. Van Steenwyk incrementally creates the tension-filled milieu. The boy feels the need to look over his shoulder constantly for he senses that there is a traitor in the town. Though at times done in a heavy-handed way, the author fills readers in on her characters' backgrounds. Pieter's father and brothers have been arrested because of their involvement with the Resistance. In spite of his fear, the young teen is willing to act as a courier for the movement and to take life-threatening chances because of his hatred for the Nazis, and because he has a crush on Beppie, another young Resistance fighter. Pieter is a fleshed-out character who strives and succeeds to be brave beyond his years. The romantic angle is not as carefully developed. Still, Pieter's adventures will hold readers' attention and they present another perspective on the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. An additional purchase where Ida Vos's Hide and Seek (1991) and Anna Is Still Here (1993 both Houghton) are popular.-Renee Steinberg, Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ

If readers can overlook one or two leaps in narrative logic and some patches of formulaic prose, they could easily become engrossed in this suspense story set in 1944 Holland. At 13, Pieter has seen the Germans arrest his father and even confiscate his dog. While his two older brothers are off fighting with the resistance, Pieter delivers underground newspapers in the village. As the Allies begin to land, the resistance steps up their efforts, and Pieter's errands grow increasingly dangerous, especially after a wounded Allied paratrooper is brought to Pieter's house. To make things worse, everyone knows there's a traitor in the village (the blanket assumption that there is only a single traitor is one of the book's flaws). Whom can Pieter trust? His teacher makes suspicious references to the years he spent studying the "beautiful" German language in Munich; Pieter's slow-witted, tag-along cousin seems to know too much; the village doctor's weakness for brandy may have loosened his lips. Van Steenwyk (Three Dog Winter) camouflages the weak spots in her plotting with sharp period detail and with almost cinematic tension. And the climax‘a furtive, after-curfew bicycle ride in which Pieter flushes out the traitor‘is heart-pounding. Ages 9-14. (June)

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