Patricia Hruby Powell | WWI from five different perspectives | Books

I love learning history from well-researched historical novels, and when I read about “Lines of Courage” (Scholastic 2022) by respected researcher and award-winning Jennifer A. Nielsen, I jumped. There aren’t many young adult novels that deal with the First World War, and this one has the added bonus of being told by five different teenage voices – from five different countries and covering the entire war, 1914-1918.

Felix Baum, 12, from Austria-Hungary, fights against Jewish deportations. He accidentally speeds down the side street where Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s carriage in Bosnia was treacherously diverted and witnesses his assassination, unaware of who or what he is watching. It is believed that this event started the complex and brutal war.

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Kara Webb, 14, from the UK, works with her mother, a nurse, on a Red Cross train in France, hoping to one day become a certified nurse or doctor. But her empathy for wounded soldiers forces her to disobey orders, like hiding an injured enemy soldier named Baum. When she’s discovered, it puts her in the kind of trouble that could keep her from ever getting the education she needs to fulfill her dreams. But when the Germans distribute poison gas and the number of wounded increases, Kara is ordered to the battlefield to transport the wounded to the hospital train.

French Juliette has been cut off from her mother and brother in her attempts to find her father, who was being held captive by the enemy during the longest battle of the war. In Verdun, Juliette sells her red cap to raise money to find her father. Kara buys Juliette’s hat and gives it back to the girl. This hat will make the rounds among the five teens.

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Dimitri Petrenko, 14, a Russian tsarist, is sent to the front unarmed by a cruel commander, a Bolshevik. Declared dead, Dimitri is found by Juliette, who nurses him back to health in a cave where she lives. As Dimitri recovers and Russia is embroiled in its own revolution, he fights on the side of the French.

The innocent Elsa from Germany, whose father is a German officer, is convinced that her carrier pigeon will help the victims of the war.

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Each of these five young people experiences the horrors, hardship and violence of war, and their lives intertwine in subtle and interesting ways. This is done in part by passing an Austrian War Medal from one character to another for five years. The coincidences necessary to make this multi-character storyline work are a bit unbelievable, but given that Ukraine is at war, it could make essential reading for many.

Patricia Hruby Powell is the author of the award-winning films Josephine, Loving vs Virginia, and Struttin’ With Some Barbecue, among others. She teaches community classes at Parkland College. Visit talesforallages.com for more information.