Author Paul Nolan puts his teaching experience to use, taking inspiration from the evacuations at Dunkirk to write this exciting, informative, and gritty young adult novel.
Demons of Dunkirk follows the story of 14-year-old Charlie Jones and frames his experience as a compelling adventure, which deals with mature themes in a realistic and respectful way.
When Charlie is faced with an abusive instructor on his naval training ship, he is thrust into a situation that sees him running from the law. The story follows Charlie as he learns new skills, forms new relationships, and – no less – attempts to survive the evacuation effort at Dunkirk, all in order to re-join his family. Nolan places the reader in Charlie’s shoes, offering a platform for meaningful engagement with the history of WWII.
“The whistling bombs and rumbling engines continued until finally the attack came to an end. Whilst the mechanised screams had gone, the human ones remained. That day, I grew up very quickly. I had to: a boy became a man in a moment.”
When students are taught history – particularly history related to World War I and II – it is unfortunate that the dramatic scale of the horrors that occurred often serves to distance the student from what they are learning. However, for meaningful understanding, it is vital to help students understand that these events were occurring to everyday people. This is where Demons of Dunkirk shines.
Demons of Dunkirk offers readers a look into one of the most heroic moments of World War II, the evacuation of Dunkirk. Nolan does not shy away from confronting the visceral depictions of the cruelty of war and while the novel serves as a useful background for pupils learning the history of WWII, it also explains the story of conscientious objectors in WWI, telling the story of a brave WWI ‘conchie’ and how he overcomes the stigma associated with his decisions.
“No father. The safest place to fight the war will be in your bloody wheelchair.”
Mother did something she had never done before and never did since – she slapped me full across the face. The diamond of her engagement ring cut into my cheek. The room fell silent. Everyone was shocked by my mother’s action. Father hurt more: he sat still – his shoulders drooped, his ashen face hanging heavy. My words had broken him.
Charlie’s family, not without their faults, enter a difficult period as the novel begins. However, they end up serving as a loving and supportive anchor for Charlie throughout the novel, and give the reader a great sense of what the men and women of WWII were fighting to protect, and often, fighting to return to. The novel does an admirable job of creating a multifaceted and relatable depiction of family life, which readers can engage with from the outset.
The novel is studded with meaningful interactions between Charlie and the people who become important to him, and these relationships make Demons of Dunkirk all the more powerful.
Another aspect which I appreciated, was the ending of the novel. Nolan provides a very satisfying ending without falling into clichés, and wraps the story up in a joyful, nostalgic and believable way.
Nolan’s clearly expressed, yet evocative writing creates a fast paced, exhilarating story for the reader, and to the very last page, presents a sincere tale of hardship and heroism.
- Author: Paul Nolan
- ISBN: 9781906132477
- Publisher: Mogzilla
- Age range: 10-16 years