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Sarah Cohen-Scali, Penny Hueston

Meet Max - it’s 1936, Bavaria, and he’s still a foetus inside his blonde, blue-eyed mother. Utterly indoctrinated in the Nazi ideology, he will address you, tell you his story until 1945-his destiny as an exceptional being, the prototype of the ‘Lebensborn' (Fountains of Youth) program, designed to produce perfect specimens of the Aryan race to regenerate the Reich. When Max meets Lukas, a young Polish boy who resembles him but who rebels against the Nazi system, cracks starts to appear in Max’s convictions…

Max is compulsive reading. Against all your instincts to despise what Max tells you, about his childish cruelty, his attempts to eliminate any aspect of weakness in order to become a tough Hitler youth, you will find yourself somehow understanding him, becoming attached to this orphan who personifies the evil that people are capable of inflicting on children in times of war.

is a fascinating, confronting historical fable. A little-known aspect of the World War II is brought to life through two striking characters whose paths cross tragically. In the words of Sarah Cohen-Scali to her readers: ‘I hope that, as I did, you will be able to feel indulgent towards Max’s flaws, and that you will love him, defend him, and adopt this orphan of evil…‘


Prepare to be taken uncomfortably deep into the Third Reich. Our narrator, Konrad, begins his story in utero – immediately demonstrating an ambitious nature and unswerving devotion to the Führer. Konrad has been conceived as part of the little-known Nazi Lebensborn program, a practical attempt at eugenics that paired selected German women with SS officers to produce thousands of ‘superior’ Aryan babies.

Max is a fascinating and disturbing journey into the mind of a child raised by a regime; a child who is indoctrinated, traumatised, and denied all affection and family. Konrad’s early care, schooling, and the eventual chaotic collapse of the Reich make for harrowing reading. The Lebensborn program extended to the kidnapping and ‘Germanisation’ of blonde-haired, blue-eyed Polish children, and it is through his fascination with Polish-Jewish boy, Lukas, that Konrad gradually faces the lies and misinformation of the Reich, and develops a fledgling moral awareness. The physical and political battles between Konrad and Lukas are gripping, and so is their growing trust and friendship. Neither is an innocent, and both are ensnared in a perilous situation where one wrong step can result in death.

Max is highly original and moving in its depiction of both the bravery and resilience of children, and their ability to engage in acts of evil. Author Sarah Cohen-Scali has written a unique, sensitive and morally complex depiction of two lost and damaged boys. Little is held back in this book – and it is for that reason that I’d recommend it for teenagers 13 years and older.

Leanne Hall is the Grants Officer for the Readings Foundation and also works as a children’s bookseller at Readings Hawthorn.

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