The steep climb had made Espen overheat. He stopped and took off his windcheater, which he stuffed into his rucksack. Although he couldn’t see it, he could hear the roar of a distant waterfall and the wind high in the pine boughs. Behind those sounds was the deep and abiding silence of the mountains. The silence of secrets being kept. Plenty of secrets. Like the one he carried with him right now…
What was going on in those mountains tonight? Espen wondered. He knew there were men and even boys hiding there. They had evaded capture or had escaped from Nazi prisons or were working for the Resistance from mountain huts. In the next valley over perhaps there was another boy, riding his bicycle along another lonely road. Up in the mountains a girl might be skiing a snowy trail. In the big city, boys walked down cobbled streets, delivering [illegal] newspapers, many of them. On bicycles or skis, on foot, in rowboats, stopping by lonely farms, town houses, apartment buildings, and in sleepy fishing villages — all over Norway people were planning and plotting and doing. Now he was one of them. He had joined the Resistance. Soon, Tante Marie had said, he would have an assignment. And he had a code name: Odin.
14-year-old Espen, like most Norwegians, is finding life under Nazi rule a time of suffering, humiliation, anger. Since Germany invaded Norway in April, 1940, Nazi soldiers have commandeered everything from food to Scouting uniforms, outlawed newspapers critical of Germany, and terrorized, arrested, and imprisoned thousands of citizens.
Now, Espen has joined the Resistance, passing coded messages, delivering banned newspapers and other crucial documents, and finally becoming a spy. His most dangerous assignment, the mapping of German headquarters, is just what he’d wished for when all of this began. Now the grim realization that death is a likely outcome, the agony of knowing he’s brought torture and arrest into his own beloved family, the death of close friends in the Resistance, and a seemingly-impossible flight on skis from German soldiers, all make his original fanciful notions of this dangerous life seem remote and naive.
Margi Preus has written this thrilling novel based on the true life experiences of Erling Storrusten, who as a teenager in Lillehammer, Norway, underwent these incredible trials in his work for the Resistance. It’s a riveting account, with loads of fascinating historical details, including some brief, but intense accounts of the torture and killing that occurred. Various viewpoints are taken in chapters, including Espen’s, his younger sister
Ingrid’s — also involved in the Resistance, and those of a classmate who has chosen to collaborate with the Nazis.
Included in the book are many extras — a pronunciation guide to Norwegian names and vocabulary, an Author’s Note indicating which elements were fictionalized in her story and telling a bit about the real hero, Erling Storrusten, information on WWII secret codes, a lovely photographic collection about “the real Espen,” a timeline of WWII events in Norway, and book lists for further reading.
Excellent story for upper-elementary and older. Probably a little intense for under 10. Certainly of interest for adults as well. This will appeal to girls as well as boys, but would make a great title for a boys’ book club, I’m thinking. Margi writes historical fiction so well, and she’s from Duluth, Minnesota, which makes it all the better.
Here’s the Amazon link: Shadow on the Mountain