With a father away at war, Peter and his mother are getting by with rationing their food and living day by day hoping they never see the telegram boy at their doorstep bearing bad news. Peter is out in the fields playing one day when a German airplane falls from the sky. The towns people are in a panic to find that of the three passengers on the plane, 2 are dead but the one who escaped in the parachute is nowhere to be found. Little do they realize that Peter and Kim, in a state of curiosity and scavenging, had come across the German soldier and hidden him away to take care of him. Finding themselves with some difficulty in communicating with the soldier, the unlikely trio slowly gain each others trust by their actions and simple words.
This was quite the compelling story and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. The premise was interesting enough and I figured I would like it, but Smith’s storytelling was pretty raw in the depiction of the effect that war has on the families of soldiers. The compassion that is shown in his characters was inspiring and really showed the unbiased uncomplicated notions that children may have. Their logic was to take care of this “enemy soldier” because that’s what they would hope would happen to their loved ones who were away at war if they were captured. Such a simple idea and their subsequent gestures illustrated that very notion.
Smith succeeded in capturing the constant fear, paranoia and uncertainty of a time at war where air raids could happen at any moment and the panic that strikes every household when the familiar sirens are heard in the middle of the night. I didn’t feel he glossed over the reality of what war was like at all, given it is a young adult book. He wrote about all the different scenarios that people could encounter and the fear of receiving a visit from the telegram boy early in the morning for fear of the bad news he would be bringing.
My Friend the Enemy is a story about hope and compassion, set among some of the darkest times in European history during this century.