The Boy at the Top of the Mountain

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
The Boy at the Top of the Mountain Book Poster Image
Chilling story of a boy coming of age in Hitler's house.

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 4 reviews

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Historical figures, including Nazis Goring, Himmler, Goebbels, and Eva Braun, as well as England's Duke and Duchess of Windsor, all visit Berghof. Pieter is told to take notes during a meeting in which Hitler and his staff discuss the details of constructing concentration camps and is reprimanded when he asks why the showers won't need running water. His father's PTSD shows readers that the trauma of war is not something experienced only in recent times. 

Positive Messages

In the midst of great evil there are people who will stand up for what's right, no matter the cost.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Pieter's schoolmate Katrina hates the Nazis and refuses his attentions, unwilling (unlike most others in the village) to close her eyes to what's happening around her. Two of the characters are involved in a plot to kill Hitler.


While never vividly portrayed, the violence in the novel is often emotionally shocking because of the suddenness by which it appears. Two people close to Pieter are executed; his father (who suffers from PTSD from his service in World War I) beats his mother; and a character falls beneath a train and dies. Pieter is bullied and punched at the orphanage and then becomes a bully himself. In the background there is always the specter of the Holocaust and the deportation of Jews, some of whom Pieter knew from his childhood in Paris. An attempted rape is not described in graphic detail.


No swearing, but many characters exhibit a casual, self-assured anti-Semitism (dismissing someone as "a Jew") that assumes everyone they interact with agrees with them.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Pieter's father, haunted by the things he saw as a soldier in World War I, is an alcoholic.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by John Boyne (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) is the story of a young French-German orphan who goes to live with his aunt, a housekeeper at Berghof, Hitler's mountaintop home in Bavaria. Taking place from 1936 to the end of the war in 1945, it's a tale of innocence corrupted as Pieter's personal devotion to Hitler changes him from a kind 7-year-old with a Jewish best friend into a self-important bully whs betrays his friends and is proud and boastful of his membership in the Hitler Youth. While the violence (including executions, a sudden death, and an attempted rape) is never overly graphic, it often appears without warning in the story and can be emotionally shocking.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byTilda M. November 11, 2017

The Boy on Top of the Mountain

I recommended this book for 11 and up because at our day and age we are already growing up knowing what rape is and there is sort of that in this book. But this... Continue reading
Written byAnonymous December 7, 2018

Good different

I've read books about World War Two in the past and ones about the Holocaust as well, but this book is unlike any other I have seen. The perspective from a... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bySophie314 June 14, 2018

amazing but truly devastating

I literally just finished the novel and felt so compelled to right a review straight away. The novel shows how an innocent child's mind can become such a h... Continue reading

What's the story?

As THE BOY WHO LIVED AT THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN begins, 7-year-old Pierrot is living in Paris with his widowed mother, his father having died three years before. He has a best friend and a beloved dog and memories of the father who drank and suffered from PTSD (though they didn't call it that then) after serving as a soldier in World War I. After the death of his mother, Pierrot is sent to live in an orphanage before being offered a home by his father's sister, Beatrix. He travels alone from France to Germany, where Beatrix works as a housekeeper at Berghof, Adolph Hitler's mountaintop home in Bavaria. Pierrot's name is promptly changed to Pieter and he gradually begins to lose his identity as a Parisian schoolboy with a Jewish best friend. Despite his aunt's efforts, Pieter becomes more and more devoted to Hitler, who shows him the attention the fatherless boy craves. Hitler himself inducts Pieter into the Hitler Youth, and the boy who was bullied at the orphanage transforms into a bully, arrogantly demanding respect and obedience from his aunt and the household staff. One of the few to stand up to him is Katrina, a schoolmate and daughter of a local shopkeeper, who refuses to be either impressed or intimidated by the young Nazi. Will Pieter's blind allegiance to Hitler lead him to make a decision with horrifying consequences?

Is it any good?

This powerful and unsettling novel of stolen innocence, betrayal, and fanaticism seamlessly weaves together historical facts with a gripping fictional narrative. The transformation of young Pieter from a boy without prejudice to a belligerent young Nazi is a storyline that should make for thought-provoking conversations between parents and teens about accountability, destructive choices, and the power of propaganda.

As with John Boyne's The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, this book offers a perspective on World War II that goes far beyond the usual tales of soldiers, battles, and resistance fighters. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about bigotry. Pieter went from being a boy with a Jewish best friend to an anti-Semite. How do you think someone learns to be prejudiced against people of another race or religion? How difficult do you think it is for someone to "unlearn" a prejudice?

  • Social media such as Twitter and Facebook is now used by groups trying to bring down dictatorships and alert the world to the crimes and atrocities they commit. If social media had existed in the 1940s, would it have been powerful enough to overthrow Hitler? 

  • Is Pieter responsible for his actions, or is he too young to truly understand the evil that surrounds him?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love history and World War II

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