Graffiti Knight Reviews

School Library Journal

GraffitiKnight_Med“It is 1947, and life is hard for 16-year-old Wilm and his family. The city of Leipzig, in southeast Germany, is controlled by the Soviets, who are brutal masters. The Germans are constantly hungry because the Soviets have significantly reduced their food rations. Even worse, the German police, Schupos, are puppets of the Soviets. Wilm and his friends like to skulk around and pretend to battle the enemy, but the war becomes real when he experiences just how powerless his community really is against them. After witnessing Schupos beat and taunt his crippled father, the teen discovers the reason that his sister’s boyfriend doesn’t come around anymore: Ernst, a Schupo himself, came upon four Soviets raping her and now considers Anneliese damaged goods. Wilm is determined to fight back, and starts committing small acts of sabotage against the police. Finally, an attempt to leave his mark on the Soviet compound goes awry, and he and his friends are forced to flee. The last quarter of the book is nonstop action as the group travels for days, attempting to avoid pursuers to make it to Bavaria and the American Zone. Wilm is a flawed but engaging protagonist, prone to headstrong actions, and he matures believably over the course of the story….Bass does a fine job of opening readers’ eyes to the harsh realities that so many German civilians faced after their country’s defeat, regardless of whether they had supported the Nazi regime.”
Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA

Kirkus Reviews

“This gripping page-turner set in 1947 East Germany explores the aftereffects of war and occupation.

World War II is over and Germany partitioned among the victors. For most in the Soviet-occupied zone, life is grim and anything but peaceful. Hunger’s a constant companion, trust in short supply. Most despise their Russian masters and even more, the German police—Schupos—who do their bidding. With their elders embittered and broken, friendship sustains 16-year-old narrator Wilm and his friends, Karl and Georg. Pretending to spy on the Schupos blows off steam, but after the Schupos beat up Wilm’s amputee father and Wilm learns of the brutal sexual assault on his sister, Anneliese, the game turns real. Supported by Karl and Georg, Wilm starts by scrawling graffiti calling the Schupos “puppets” and vandalizing police vehicles. Risk-taking proves energizing and deeply satisfying—also addictive and eventually desensitizing. It’s at odds with his growing interest in building bridges. The engineer who mentors him lends him books and encourages his interest, but their connection weakens as Wilm’s acts of sabotage escalate. The authentic setting, compelling characters and taut, suspenseful plot claim attention throughout. Bass refuses to oversimplify human beings. When motivations are tangled and complex, actions, even the best-intended, have unforeseen consequences.

A different kind of war story, highly recommended.”

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Quill & Quire

“Alberta author Karen Bass’s latest novel is a character-rich story about a 16-year-old boy struggling with anger, loyalty, and rebellion….

Wilm and his impoverished family live in a tiny flat in war-ravaged Leipzig. His father is a crippled, bitter war veteran, his sister an emotionally paralyzed victim of the Soviet invasion, and his mother a ghost-like figure fighting to keep the family together. The only people in Wilm’s world with any power are the Soviet occupiers and the brutal collaborationist East German police; everyone else compromises and tries to get by.

Minor acts of rebellion give Wilm a thrill and offer him a sense of power that he is otherwise lacking. Unfortunately, the minor vandalism he and his friends see as a game escalates dangerously. Suddenly, Wilm finds himself dragging his family and friends into a deadly race to escape across the border into the American zone.

The characters in Graffiti Knight are multi-faceted and their motivations complex. Wilm, in particular, represents an excellent portrayal of how teenage anger can sometimes lead to stupidity. In attempting to assert his individuality, Wilm is seduced by the power he feels carrying out sabotage. But does that mean he is the same as the enemies he is trying to outwit?…Wilm is a thoroughly believable character who invokes the reader’s sympathy (and a sense of frustration at his actions).

Bass has artfully recreated an historical time and place peopled by realistic, three-dimensional characters grappling with their own emotions and global forces they can only barely understand.”
—John Wilson, whose latest novel is Stolen (Orca Book Publishers)

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International Reading Association – Reading Today Online

“Go Global! Multicultural Books for Children and Young Adults”

“…The book makes it clear how war and its aftermath touch everyone, even [the protagonist's] sister. Incidents such as the Soviets’ allowing much-needed butter to spoil in the sun due to incompetence or a lack of concern help readers understand Wilm’s anger. The book offers a fresh perspective on life for the Germans after WWII.”
—Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

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Resource Links

“This notable fourth novel by Karen Bass should add an interesting dimension to the current fashion of [dystopian] novels. It is based on real evens from post-war Europe (1947 to be exact) in what is now East Germany. For my money, it has more drama than the Hunger Games.

The hero of the novel is a teenager in Leipzig, a broken city whose citizens live in fear of their new oppressors, with no hope of escape. Wilm is almost finished school and quite by accident finds himself waging a war of embarrassment against the German police he considers to be puppets of their Soviet masters. His campaign gains momentum and a shift in focus after he learns that his sister had been raped the year before by a group of Soviet soldiers when she had gone to the train station to meet her German soldier boyfriend. Wilm had idolized the boyfriend, who then joined the German police. Wilm sees the betrayal as doubly troubling.

In the midst of all this is the budding friendship between Wilm and a structural engineer who works for the Soviets, although not by choice. He mentors Wilm until Wilm strikes a compromising deal with the German police and the ex-boyfriend in an effort to save a close friend from imprisonment. Left to his own devices, Wilm commits one more account of defiance and lands all his friends and family in trouble. The only escape is complete escape – to the Americans on the other side of the border with Czechoslovakia.

Five of them set out on a life or death path to hoped-for freedom, aware that the price will be steep and the journey treacherous. They are pursued by the ex-boyfriend who uses his professional resources in what is now a personal vendetta.

Author Karen Bass and author Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch (Making Bombs for Hitler, The Hunger, Last Airlift) are cousins. Between them they have brought to life vital portraits of life before, during, and after war, regardless of locale or allegiance. By not resorting to fantasy to carry their work, they have done all of us a great service.

P.S. Graffiti Knight is a great title.”
—Lesley Lute

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VOYA

“In post-World War II Germany, Wilm is frustrated and bored, but he is better off than some who go hungry from too few Soviet rations. At first, Wilm’s only real worries are avoiding his drunken father and enduring boring mathematics lessons, until he finds out what really happened to his sister. They took his father’s leg in the war, and his dignity after, now they have taken his sister’s peace…

Graffiti Knight shines a light on an experience about which there is little information. Most World War II historical fiction focuses on the plight of those in concentration camps, but there is not much information on what it was like to live in Germany after the war or what it was like for the Germans themselves, Nazi or not. From the perspective of the occupied, readers will see through the eyes of the oppressed…it is a good addition to any library.”
—Shanna Miles

CM Magazine

“…Karen Bass’ depiction of life in post-war Eastern Germany is incredibly gripping and informative. As young adult war-related historical fiction goes, this book is second to none. The story is loosely based on the true story of a close family friend of the author, making her protagonist all the more realistic and relatable. Readers will find themselves seeing the war-ravaged vantages through Wilm’s eyes and feeling his pulse racing as Wilm sprints from the scene of his crimes, avoiding enraged Soviet officers and Schupo. Wilm’s triumphs and fears become the readers’ own.  I believe this book could well be used as a supplement to World War II historical education in Canadian high schools.

Highly recommended.
Amy Trepanier

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Canadian Children’s Book News

Excerpt from the article “Exploring History through Fiction” by Rachel Seigel, Canadian Children’s Book News Winter 2014

“History is the succession of events that shape our present and our future, and one of the best ways to engage children in learning history is through historical fiction. Good historical writing offers insights into people and events from the past, and helps children to understand how the world we live in has been shaped by those events…

The last book, Graffiti Knight by author Karen Bass, takes readers to Soviet-occupied Germany in 1947, and is a riveting page-turner that readers will find impossible to put down.

Sixteen-year-old Wilm and his family live in Leipzig, Germany, a town scarred heavily by WWII and now occupied by the Soviets who are brutal and oppressive. The war has also left its scars on his family, but Wilm is finding his voice, sneaking out at night to leave messages on police buildings. What he’s doing is dangerous but exciting, and Wilm feels justified considering how much his family has suffered. When one mission goes too far, Wilm finds he’s endangered the people he’s tried most to protect, and he’s forced to take drastic action to keep them safe.

The setting is detailed and richly drawn, and Bass successfully creates an atmosphere of tension and fear. Wilm’s family are no strangers to Soviet brutality, and after witnessing a group of soldiers terrorize his crippled father, he decides it’s time to act.

His minor acts of rebellion give him a sense of power and control that he lacks in his daily life. The more he succeeds in angering the police, the more his game escalates, until it culminates in one final act that puts him and his family in a life-or-death situation.

The spelling of ‘knight’ in the title is a clever play on words, as Wilm’s acts take place under the cover of night and, at the same time, implies heroism. Wilm is a complex and fascinating character and readers will be left to decide whether his actions are heroic or simply reckless.

A skilled storyteller can bring history to life, and while the four highlighted books span different countries, cities, and historical periods, all effectively present these events through the eyes of the children living in them, and more deeply connect readers to the past.”

The Calgary Herald

“‘It doesn’t matter which side of a conflict a person is on, war makes victims of us all.’ The Second World War had been over for two years, and Wilm and his family face the aftermath of German defeat. An action-packed emotional story filled with foolishness, friendship and courage.

This story will appeal to mature readers ages 12 and up.”
—Barbra Hesson

The Dewey Divas and the Dudes “Top 5 Picks of 2013”

“This book is a fast-paced page-turner and compelling historical fiction for tweens and teens. It contains just the right mix of adventure and suspense to keep readers interested, and is one of my favourite novels this year.”
—Rachel Seigel

CanLit for LittleCanadians

“Karen Bass’ thorough research, as she describes in her Historical Notes at the back of the book, provides the authentic background for Graffiti Knight,challenging all that readers might think they know about Nazi Germany and its aftermath….By seeing Leipzig and other parts of Germany through the eyes of a young man of sixteen, who lives through World War II but experiences further injustice in its aftermath, when so many were celebrating victory, Karen Bass provides enlightenment via a new perspective.  Heroes are not just made in war.  Courage and compassion, the virtues of heroes anywhere and anytime, can make a knight out of anyone, even Wilm.”
—Helen Kubiw

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Amy’s Marathon of Books

“…Wilm himself is a teen with a profound sense of responsibility. So many things that occur during the story aren’t really his fault, but he is his harshest critic and holds himself accountable even when he doesn’t need to. He also has a well-developed reflective nature which leads to powerful insights into his true nature and the situation of his friends and family. As a result, he’s an excellent choice for a narrator.

There’s a lot to love here and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of what I could have written. But when it comes to the story of Wilm what I loved the most was how Bass was able to make each character complicated, hard to completely admire or condemn. They all seem to have complex motivations for their actions which made for an intense and thought-provoking read.

Both an eye-opening piece of historical fiction and a page-turning, suspense-filled story, Graffiti Knight is an enlightening read that’s hard to put down.”

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Camrose Public Library

“Graffiti Knight by Alberta author Karen Bass is the fictional tale of sixteen-year-old Wilm, a kid growing up in Leipzig, Germany in the aftermath of World War II, when the Nazis are out of power but the country is still reeling from the events of the war and struggling under Soviet control.

As Wilm tries to come to terms with the different hardships that have befallen his family and close friends as a result of the war, he grows increasingly frustrated and restless to just stand by and watch as the people around him suffer through terrible living conditions, hunger, and abuse. Finally, he can take it no longer and decides to seek revenge in his own way; his acts of vandalism and mischief are an attempt to embarrass and belittle the corrupt German police force.

The book is a roller coaster through Wilm’s personal struggles, as well as the bigger picture of the difficult everyday life led by most Germans after World War II. It is a unique perspective to see the devastating effects of the war on Germans, a group not often cast as the victims in war tales. This shows how the war impacted every involved group in horrible ways, and how it continued to shape youth culture and politics for years afterwards.”

Canadian Bookworm

“Great story, set in a time and place that I’ve not read about before. Bass makes Wilm, come alive as a complex character being forced to grow up more quickly than he should. His friends Karl and Georg, his sister Anneliese, and Georg’s friend Ruth also are multidimensional. She also gives a real sense of what post-war Soviet-occupied Germany was like for the people who lived there.”

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Ms. J’s Book Reviews 4 School Libraries

“I thoroughly enjoyed the pace and historical details in this novel. Karen Bass—the author, gave me a sense of the difficulties of living in a communist, post war Germany in 1947. I learned many details and now I have even more questions about life after World War 2.”

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Oak Bay News

“Readers aged 13 and older will enjoy this story of 16-year-old Wilm, who’s finally tasting freedom after a childhood cut short by war and the harsh strictures of Nazi Germany, . Despite the scars the Second World War left on his hometown and in spite of the oppressive new Soviet regime, Wilm is finding his own voice. It’s dangerous, of course, to be sneaking out at night to leave messages on police buildings, but it’s also exciting, and Wilm feels justified, considering his family’s suffering. One mission goes too far, however, and Wilm endangers the very people he most wants to protect. Award-winning author Karen Bass brings readers a fast-paced story about a boy fighting for self-expression in an era of censorship and struggle.”

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