On April 9, 1940, Nazi Germany invaded an unprepared Norway, a peaceful country whose people looked like the blond haired, blue-eyed Aryan's Hitler thought should rule the world. The people of Norway tried to fight the invasion of their beloved country but were to small to organize much of a military resistance. A puppet regime was installed, headed by Vidkun Quisling, head of the Norwegian Nazi party and King Haakon and his government fled to England. Since they were unable to overthrow their Nazi occupiers, the Norwegian people began to resist in other ways.
In Shadow on the Mountain, the experiences of Espen are based on those of real life Erling Storrusten, who was a teenager in Lillehammer, Norway during the Nazi occupation. Living in the fictional village of Lilleby with his parents and his younger sister, Ingrid, Espen is fourteen years old when the Nazis occupy Norway. Although the Germans at first are friendly, Espen watches as his way of life gradually disappears. Gone are scouting and his beloved soccer team. Hoping to undermine the Nazi occupation in any way, Espren joins the resistance as a courier. As he becomes a trusted member he is given more difficult tasks and drawn into the inner circle of the resistance.
Working against Espen are a few of his fellow Norwegians who have decided to side with the Nazi occupiers. Aksel a former soccer team member, who wasn't well liked, is determined to make a name for himself, no matter what the cost may be. There is Kjell, another soccer mate who struggles with cooperating with the Nazis so as to obtain medication for his grandmother. Preus uses these two characters in particular to explore the reasons why some people cooperated with an evil regime and what motivated them to do so.
As the Nazi occupation drags on, and Espren grows up both physically and emotionally, he learns not to hate his occupiers, but to "move toward the light", to shun the emotions of hatred, anger and bitterness that encompass the Nazi ideology. Espren is helped in his work by Ingrid and also a neighbour, Solveig, whom he has a crush on. When Espren's group is compromised and with the Nazi net tightening, Espren must make a choice; stay in Lilleby and risk the lives of others in the resistance or make the dangerous journey to freedom in Sweden. Preus does a wonderful job of building the novel to its exciting, climatic ending.
Shadow on the Mountain is well written historical fiction that will appeal to younger teens who enjoy war fiction with a touch of excitement and romance, and at times a dash of humour. The story is told from the perspective of four characters, Espen, Ingrid, Aksel and Kjell.
Preus does just about everything she can to help orient and familiarize her young readers with the situation in Norway during the Second World War. There is a prologue which sets the stage for the novel, helping readers understand how neutral Norway was overrun by a large German military contingent. There is a map to help the reader understand the layout of the setting of the novel in Lilleby. The Author's Note at the back sets out more information about Erling Storrusten, and about what is fiction and what is fact in the novel. There is a lovely photo album at the back of the book with pictures of Erling, a timeline, a detailed bibliography and suggestions for further reading.
I especially liked the shorter chapters and the breaking up of the novel into years using separate black pages containing interesting and relevant quotes. I highly recommend Shadow on the Mountain both for its quality of writing, and for telling the story of a lesser known aspect of one country's resistance to the Nazi war machine.
Shadow on the Mountain by Margi Preus
New York: Amulet Books 2012