Put Out the Light

Written by Terry Deary
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley Hal McNulty

1940. The Sheffield steel factories are working flat out for the war effort. So far they haven’t been bombed but there are a number of false air-raid warnings which someone is using as an opportunity to steal from empty houses. Billy Thomas and his sister Sally set out to discover who the thief is.

In Dachau, Germany, Manfred and his friend Hansl are plotting to bring the war to a speedy end. For that, they need to sneak into the prison camp which houses a munitions factory. And when they meet Irena, a half-starved Polish inmate, they realize that she can get them inside – but will she help them? When their plan goes horribly wrong, Manfred, Hansl and Irena realize that they will be lucky to escape with their lives.

I thought this was a terrific book. I like the street-wise Sally who knows all the black market scams and her spiky relationship with her older brother who is the narrator. But Terry Deary’s skill really shows in the German sections. At first, Manfred buys into the Nazi ideology and only gradually learn the truth about what goes on inside the concentration camp at Dachau. Irena, a cynical child, old before her time, is a beautifully drawn character, and her courage and endurance are very moving.

This is a complex story of moral integrity as well as being an exciting war story, told from two different points of view. We see how children on opposite sides face up to the hardships of war. In Nazi Germany, Manfred is given only a distorted version of the truth – a version he has to go along with, or else both he and his family will suffer. Terry Deary skilfully shows us how slowly, bit by bit, Manfred learns how brutal the Nazi regime really is. Recommended for 11 plus.

This is an exciting book. Two groups of children are living through a war created by adults, not understanding why the war is happening. I enjoyed reading it because it wasn’t just about English people in the war, like lots of World War II books are, but about children in Germany as well. I am thirteen years old, and this book is aimed at people a bit younger than me but I still found it complicated but in an exciting way. It’s good for children who want to be challenged and read a different sort of war story to the usual ones. It shows what life was like from both sides, and it gave me an insight into what other people’s lives were like on a personal level, rather than in history lessons which are impersonal. I would recommend it to anyone who wants a taste of culture and a dash of thrilling adrenalin.