A Starred Review in Kirkus for Berlin!
Editor Review (reviewed on April 1, 2011)
The historically freighted match between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling forms the backdrop for this compelling coming-of-age novel. Fourteen-year-old Karl Stern has never considered himself Jewish. His father is an atheist, his mother an agnostic. He grew up in a secular household, has no religious background and even has a religiously neutral name. But in 1934 Berlin, with the rise of the Nazis and the newly entitled bullies at school, Karl is Jewish. He gets beaten up and, eventually, expelled from school. Enter Max Schmeling, heavyweight champion of the world, who offers Karl boxing lessons in exchange for a portrait from Mr. Stern’s art gallery. Karl’s journey to manhood, from 1934 to 1938, is a rough one for a Jewish boy in Nazi Germany, but Sharenow weaves a colorful tale from the cultural context of the mid-1930s: the Holocaust, Kristallnacht, degenerate art, Joe Louis, Jesse Owens, Picasso and Matisse. Besides being an up-and-coming boxer, Karl is a cartoonist, and his cartoons and drawings add visual depth to the novel, effectively delineating Karl’s growing sense of himself and his purpose, inspired by his beloved Action Comics hero, Superman. A brief author’s note continues the story beyond 1938, relating the postwar friendship between Schmeling and Joe Louis. A fine one-two punch with the author’s previous powerful work, My Mother the Cheerleader (2007). (sources) (Historical fiction. 12 & up)