Leave it Avi to bring forth another powerful historical fiction story that will leave you on the edge of your seat. The Button War is set in Poland, during the time between Soviet occupation and the German occupation during the first World War.
The story centers around a group of young boys whose small town is first in Soviet hands, and then is in German hands, and then is caught up in the violent struggle between the two military forces, neither of which has much regard for the civilian population. As always in war, it is the civilians who suffer the most, and that is true here, too.
Patryk, 12, is the narrator here, the hero of sorts, who joins his group of friends in what begins as a midnight dare — steal buttons from the coats of Soviet troops in a contest to see who can get the most unique, the most valuable buttons off the soldiers — but which becomes increasingly more dangerous when the Germans arrive, and the button stealing puts the boys into danger, and death.
Avi does not let us flinch from the story, building the narrative around the moral choices of Patryk, as one of his friends, Jurek, slowly becomes more and more maniacal and more pressuring on the group of boys, always upping the ante. Friendship, betrayal and war are the landscape of The Button War. No one escapes this story unscathed, and we readers understand that Patryk, on the run by the end of the book, will live with the echoes of this time period for the rest of his life.
The story is based in a real place, with real events, and Avi’s masterful writing enriches the experience on many levels. This book is geared towards a middle and high school classroom, I would say, although some more advanced and interested elementary readers might enjoy it, too.
Peace (not war),