Review first appeared online in October 2016 – now republished here.

Title: Max
Author: Sarah Cohen-Scali
Publisher: Walker Books
Genre: Young adult/teen, Historical fiction
Book format: Paperback
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Description:  Baby Max is the perfect prototype of the Nazi eugenics programme; he is the ideal size, he has the correct colour hair and flawless blue eyes.
Raised in an ideology driven by hatred and ruled by fear, Max is taught to endure pain and be brave at all costs.
But as he is drawn further into the horror of war, Max must fight to untangle the truth from the lie.

*Free copy provided by publisher for review…

Review:  Max is the perfect Nazi baby.  Born as part of the eugenics programme his blond hair, blue eyes and entire body are perfect.  But raised with Nazi ideology and living through the brutality of war, how long can Max cope before reality questions his own beliefs?

‘Max’ is such an amazing and powerful novel it had me gripped, shocked, horrified and even had me crying!  Told in the first person perspective throughout, Max tells us his story.  It starts with him talking to us from inside the womb.  This may seem odd but I got into the story straight away and I’m surprised how gripped I was from just the first few lines.  As Max is born and begins to grow up he tells us his story though his own Nazi ideology.  Although children may have not been born with that mindset, they were conditioned to think a certain way, and this is how Max thinks from the first moment we read.  His attitude and opinions are full of hatred and are offensive, but it’s the way the Nazis thought and this is what makes this novel so powerful.

The book is separated into four parts.  Each one a different time period in Max’s life.  As the book spans the timeframe of 1936 to 1945 Max doesn’t grow up much in age but what he goes though and the experiences he has are far more mature than any nine year old should have gone through.  The story is Max’s and we learn about his life, growing up without love, conditioned to be the perfect future soldier, but as we read on other characters sometimes relay stories, or Max is able to see something happening which gives a greater insight into what was happening not only with the eugenics, titled the ‘Lebensborn’ programme, but we see other things that the Nazis did during the war.

The horrors or war get more and more dark and shocking the further you read into the book.  This may be a YA novel but it doesn’t hold back from describing what really happened.  You read about sickening and bloody deaths, sex, rape and many of the horrors including some of the details of the holocaust.  This book is designed to shock and horrify and it really does.  I’ve known a lot about the horrors of the Nazis in world war II both from what I learned at school and my various Polish extended family, but reading this stuff in a novel, when you feel you are part of the story was just all the more shocking and brutal.  I liked the fact that towards the end, the story didn’t hold back from telling the truth of what happened in the end of the war and didn’t just focus on the brutality from the Nazis.

Despite all the horrors I was so gripped by the novel that I only put it down when real life got in the way.  The ending is a satisfying one but the whole book isn’t a happy one.  Apart from some quite graphic descriptions and mentions of deaths, there is use of the f and s swear words (as well as some milder ones) though this isn’t too frequent.  I usually don’t enjoy too much swearing in novels but this felt so right and it made the story all the more intense.

At the end of reading this novel I feel exhausted, I felt like crying too, but I’m glad I read this.  Not only do you feel for this character Max as he’s just a young child, and what he goes though isn’t anything a child should go through, but at the same time you find yourself shocked at hearing the Nazi ideology come from him.  It was really chilling to read at times but you still feel for this character and it really makes it all the harder to put this book down as you want to see what happens to him.

I’d give this book a hundred stars if I could.  It deserves them.  It’s so well written and you feel such emotions when reading it.  It’s a book that should be read by everyone, young and old, and it’s the sort of book I wish I’d had when learning about the holocaust and war at school. It’s endorsed by Amnesty International which isn’t surprising.  The authors notes at the end show how most of the characters are based on real people, making this again more chilling and dark.  This book is sold as a YA novel but given the content I’d say older teens should read this and not anyone younger, the details are just too dark, but a book I’d recommend everyone around the world to pick up and read.

Do you like historical fiction?  What about books like this that touch on difficult subjects?  Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂