Uncertain soldier by Karen Bass is a YA novel set in Alberta (mostly close to Spirit River in the Peace region) during WWII. It is a study of power, who has it, who uses it, who abuses it and of the response to lack of power. It explores questions around why people hurt each other, on purpose, in the open or behind backs —at the level of nations (war), at the level of community (anti anyone who is German, Aboriginal), at the level of the individual (bullying in school, parents beating children).

Set at first in a POW camp, but mostly in a logging camp using POWs as labour, the story surrounds Erich a 17-year old German boy captured at sea when his vessel burned and sank and 12-year old Max, Canadian son of German immigrants and a target in school. Somehow Bass weaves a story around finding the cause of the “accidents” happening at the camp. There is a complex caste of characters and she does an admirable job at creating complicated motives for their actions.

As with her other books (Run like Jager, Drummer Girl, Summer of Fire and the Hill are the ones I have read), I recommend this highly. I especially suggest this would be great read in a classroom setting—discussing similar situations in today’s context and exploring the ethical issues they present.