Traitor: A Novel of World War II

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Traitor: A Novel of World War II Book Poster Image
Dark historical page-turner is thrilling and insightful.

Parents say

No reviews yetAdd your rating

Kids say

No reviews yetAdd your rating

Did we miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.

A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Readers will learn a great deal about World War II, particularly about conditions in Eastern Europe as both the German and then the Russian Army invade and occupy. Historical details about what happened to the Poles, Ukrainians, ethnic Germans, and how the various factions worked: the Russians and the NKVD, the Ukrainian nationalists, the pro-German Ukrainian Nachtigallen, the UPA, the Polish Resistance, and more.

Positive Messages

Traitor promotes courage, empathy, and perseverance. It encourages looking past enemy status and finding the humanity within each person.

Positive Role Models

Tolya and Aleksey are each brave and do what they feel needs to be done to protect those they care for, Aleksey in particular. They each have complicated pasts and storylines. They want to see the humanity in others and to forgive themselves for mistakes they've made. Each puts others first and risks danger for the safety of others.


People die from bullet wounds, starvation, grenade explosions, and other injuries. One character dies by suicide (gunshot). Child abuse and a rape are mentioned. Torture and ethnic cleansing is also described and discussed. Evidence of mass deaths. 


Two different couples kiss.


Occasional strong language includes "bastard," "bitch," "whore," "s--t," etc. Ethnic slurs and anti-Polish, anti-Ukrainian, anti-Russian, anti-German, and anti-Semitic language.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Smoking, drinking, and prescription drug use.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Amanda McCrina's Traitor: A Novel of World War II is a historical thriller from two perspectives about two soldiers with different uniforms in different years of the war caught in a spiral of betrayal and identity crises. The book includes candid descriptions of war violence, killings, torture, shootings, suicide, and mentions of abuse. The language is occasionally strong, including various ethnic slurs that would've been fitting in the historical context where so many groups hated one another in the face of occupation and invasion. For fans of Elizabeth Wein and Ruta Sepetys, this is an ideal pick of historical and political wartime intrigue.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

What's the story?

Author Amanda McCrina's first YA novel, Traitor: A Novel of World War II starts with Tolya, a half-Polish, half-Ukrainian Soviet Red Army soldier in newly Soviet-liberated Lwow, Poland in 1944. Tolya Korolenko's not-so-accidentally kills his unit's political officer on the street, but before he can be caught by superior officers, he's rescued by a band of Ukrainian resistance fighters led by young Solovey, scarred and weary after years of war. A betrayal forces them to go on the run and wonder who has betrayed them and why. The book alternates between Tolya's point of view in 1944 and Solovey's (Aleksey's) in 1941. Twists, turns, and secrets make each young man reevaluate who's an enemy and who's an ally in the middle of a war where loyalties change and trusting someone -- anyone -- can be a lethal mistake.

Is it any good?

This well-researched and executed historical thriller immerses readers in the stories of two young soldiers, each accused of being a traitor to a different cause in WWII. By setting the story in the occupied Galician city of Lwow, McCrina chronicles and explores all of the various armies and resistance groups willing to shed blood to claim it -- the Germans, the Russians, the Poles, and Ukrainians, as well as political and religious factions. The novel is best for patient and mature teen readers who should begin with the back matter: a list of military and paramilitary forces as well as an extensive author's note about the history of the region. Then they'll better understand the context and setting. Another important note: While the audiobook is wonderfully narrated, the discrepancy between the points of view and years depicted make this novel much easier to follow in print.

The two timelines and perspectives mean some important milestones and events happen off the page and that a few heartbreaking moments in 1941 are more fully explained in the 1944 timeline. There's a tiny bit of romance, but it's explored in a unique way that doesn't worry itself with a standard beginning, middle, and ending. The women characters are strong but secondary, and they range from a middle-aged resistance fighting nurse to two young and beautiful soldiers/partisans. McCrina shows a great deal of skill and is a new and energetic voice in YA historical fiction. Traitor would be a particularly helpful enrichment novel for middle and high-school students studying world history and WWII.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in Traitor. Why is it necessary to the story? How does written violence compare to visual violence?

  • Traitor is written in two perspectives and two timelines. What did you learn about the two men's intertwined fates? Which character did you relate to more?

  • Why do you think the history of Polish-Ukrainian tensions during WWII isn't widely studied in the United States? Does the story make you want to learn more about Eastern Europe during WWII or historical fiction in general?

  • How is romance depicted in the book? How is it different from love stories in similar books?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love World War II stories

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

Top advice and articles

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate