I don’t know about you, but I think that perhaps one in every two historical fiction books that are published for middle grade readers is set during WWII. I have often taken “breaks” from reading historical fiction books for this reason, although, admittedly, it is far from my favorite genre anyway.
Enter Shadow on the Mountain by Margi Preus. While it is set during WWII, it is also set in Norway. And that makes for a refreshing and interesting change. Fourteen-year-old Espen lives in the village of Lilleby, which, along with all of Norway, is living under Nazi occupation. Brave Espen becomes a member of the resistance, starting small but eventually playing a key role in spying on the Germans and providing important information to the resistance. Along the way, readers also meet Ingrid, Aspen’s sister, who stays true to Norway in her own ways; Kjell, Espen’s former friend who reluctantly joins the Norwegian Nazi Party to protect his mother; and Aksel, always a rival to Espen, who embraces the Nazi message, is suspicious of Aspen, and vows to catch him in the act.
I like how the book not only features Espen’s missions, but also showed the small ways in which Norwegians asserted their independence on a daily basis: by wearing red hats, dressing in Norway’s colors, refusing to participate in a Nazi-organized skiing competition, and more. Preus also weaves allusions to Norwegian folktales and traditions into the story.
The best part? Shadow on the Mountain is based on the true story of Erling Storrusten, whom Preus extensively interviewed. The back matter includes photographs of Storrusten, a timeline, a selected bibliography, and extensive author notes that tell which facts in the novel were true and which were invented by Preus.
I found this book an engaging read, and I learned much about Norway during the time of WWII. Hmm…I guess it’s time to embrace historical fiction again.