Sarah Cohen-Scali’s Max is definitely the most disturbing YA I’ve read this year, but it is also one of the most powerful


Max is an uncomfortable read.   The cover and the Amnesty International endorsement make it clear that this is a pretty hard core book.  In short, the images may disturb you.  I thought it was fascinating and innovative, so it got a four star rating, but it might be too much for some YA readers.

Goodreads Summary

Nazi Germany. 1936.

“I should have been born yesterday, but that’s not what I wanted. The date didn’t suit me. So I’ve stayed put. Motionless. Rigid. Of course that means a lot of pain for my mother, but she’s a brave woman, and she’s putting up with the delay without complaint. I’m sure she approves of my tactic.

“My wish, the first of my future life, is to come into the world on April 20. Because that’s the Führer’s birthday. If I’m born on April 20, I will be blessed by the Germanic gods and seen as the firstborn of the master race. The Aryan race will henceforth rule the world.”

In the Lebensborn program, carefully selected German women are recruited by the Nazis to give birth to new members of the Aryan race. Inside one of these women is Max, literally counting the minutes until he is born and he can fulfill his destiny as the perfect Aryan specimen.

Max is taken away from his birth mother soon after he enters the world. Raised under the ideology and direction of the Nazi Party, he grows up without any family, without affection or tenderness, and he soon becomes the mascot of the program. That is until he meets Lukas, a young Jewish boy whom he knows he is meant to despise. Instead, the friendship that blossoms changes Max’s world forever. 

My Thoughts

So, why is this one of the most unsettling books I’ve read this year?  It is the adult tone of the narrator, which never varies from his introduction in the womb until the end of the book.  It is the unflinching descriptions of rape, murder and human experimentation.  It is the Nazi rhetoric that the narrator is born believing in wholeheartedly and without question.  Honestly, it makes for compelling and horrifying reading.  I found it hard to put down, but I’m not sure it is something everyone should pick up.  Readers who aren’t careful might just miss the message, and I honestly feared that this much exposure to Nazi rhetoric was a bad idea, even though I understood the ultimate goal.  It is a book that I think needs to come with a careful discussion and guidance.  As a teacher, I can say it’s going to be problematic for schools because of the content – graphic descriptions of awful crimes against humanity and blunt descriptions of sex, mostly non-consensual.  I get the message the book is intending to share and it is a powerful work.  I really liked the book and I believe it is an amazing concept, but it isn’t something I would hand to a YA reader. 

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


About queenbook

When the final bell rings, I stash those messy piles of essays and analysis assignments in a desk drawer and I head home to a pile of good books. My kids and dog eat too many chicken nuggets and the house could be neater, but as long as I get my daily read, I guess we are doing all right. When I was twelve and fifteen and eighteen and twenty, I believed I needed to get out there and do those things I had just been reading about, which ended in disaster, tears, a tattoo that scares me every time I catch a glimpse of it in the mirror, and the realization that some of us are meant for action, and some of us are meant to critique the pace of action in a book. I read primarily YA fiction as I have a rather hulking classroom library and a hundred high school readers to engage daily. Nothing makes me happier than coming to school and finding an impatient teenager waiting by my door to turn in a book and get another one just like it. I adore a good zombie, a medieval princess, or girl assassin (I would like them all in one book if you are a writer looking for some inspiration). I add historical mystery to my wish list a year in advance, and you should get out of my way when the next Outlander book comes out. I have an embarrassing fondness for rock star books, but only if they don’t get too trashy and embarrass me. My favorite book of all time is The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. My book boyfriends include Gilbert Blythe, Alonzo Wilder, and Jamie Fraser. They are mine and you can’t have them.

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