Two Minute Review: Winter in Wartime by Jan Terlouw

Monday, April 16, 2012
Author: Jan Terlouw
Genre: historical fiction, middle grade
Series: N/A
Pages: 220 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: first in 1972, republished  2011
Source: from publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3.5/5

Near the end of World War II, 14-year-old Michiel becomes involved with the Resistance after coming to the aid of a wounded British soldier. With the conflict coming to an end, Michiel comes of age and learns the start difference between adventure fantasy and the ugly realities of war.

Winter in Wartime is the fairly short but poignant and important story of a 16-year-old boy named Michiel in German-occupied Netherlands during WWII. Apparently over in Europe and Belgium for the last several decades, Jan Terlouw is a very prolific and prominent author; Winter in Wartime is even considered a classic there. While his work is not quite so well known over here on this side of the Atlantic (or really not known at all), I can't help but feel that is a shame because though a simple, quick read, Winter in Wartime makes for an excellent (if truncated) addition to the WWII historical fiction genre. Though this book deals with harsh times, death and betrayal it is entirely suitable for the middle-grade and younger audience it was written for.

Opening on the 1,611st night of the German occupation, Michiel is a clever and  honest boy. Treated with more freedom since the outbreak of the war, he is treated like an adult, with responsibilities to help his family and town. While I can't say that the characters herein were the most developed or fleshed out, each was more than distinctive in their personalities. Michiel as the main character gets most of the screentime and he is an able narrator and storyteller. When a friend of his runs into trouble of the German persuasion, Michiel launches into action to try and help. While WWII is not the most original foray for historical fiction, I don't read many novels about the occupation of countries other than France, or Poland. Michiel's story is unique and largely so compelling because of its unexplored location and dire times. 

This is quite obviously a children's book from the tone and voice, but Winter in Wartime doesn't necessarily skirt around the horrors of that particular war. Death, mistakes, betrayal all rate an appearance and make for drastic events in the young man's life. I rated this only a 3.5/5 because the plot can  feel rather short and thin in some places - the search for the betrayer was obvious for me as an older reader but I think it will remain clouded longer for the intended audience. I wished for a bit more detail about Michiel and his family's situation, but what is provided is serviceable if not exemplary. After reading this, I can readily understand (and reinforce) the broad appeal that this author holds for middle grade and children's novels.


  1. I respect a book for younger audiences that are placed in war time that do not avoid the atrocities of war. Good review!

    1. Why thank you Miss Libby! Nice to see you around the internet a bit more lately


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