Title: The Man Next Door
Author: J. Tomas
Length: 8.477 words (25 pdf pages)
Publisher: JMS Books
Genre: m/m contemporary YA
When fifteen year old Jake Allister learns the new neighbor in his apartment complex is an elderly man from Germany named Mr. Wagner, he fears the worst. The guy’s old enough to have survived World War II, and to Jake’s young mind, that makes him suspect. Because Mr. Wagner isn’t Jewish, Jake assumes the man must have been part of the Nazi regime who tortured and killed millions before he was born.
Jake isn’t religious, by any stretch of the imagination, and neither is his mother. He had to learn about the Holocaust at school; now he distrusts anything German, including Mr. Wagner. Then he sees the old man watching him and his boyfriend Thad make out in the parking lot. Jake just knows the guy is a Nazi.
But when he finally gets invited into Mr. Wagner’s apartment, Jake discovers Jews weren’t the only ones who suffered during the Holocaust. For the first time, he begins to grasp the scope of the tragedy that unfurled during the war … and what it meant to be Jewish — or gay — in Nazi Germany.
Once again, this author gets entirely in the had of teenagers. Jake has one interest in his life, spending time with his boyfriend Thad. His life revolves around texting Thad, and making plans to spend time with him after school – preferably at Thad’s house because Jake’s mother works at home. His life is simple, until he learns about the holocaust in history class. As a Jew he’s shocked that this could happen, that people didn’t stand up for what was right. When his mother informs him that an elderly German man moved in next door, he loses it. If the man wasn’t a Jew who died in a concentration camp, then he was a Nazi or a sympathiser.
Despite his mother calling him on his little rant and even his boyfriend telling him that he’s likely wrong, he’s got that black and white world-view of youth. You were either on the right side or the wrong side and since this guy is still alive, that means he must have been on the wrong side. He and Thad catch the old man watching them make out in Thad’s car, which just annoys Jake further. The day his mother insists he help Mr. Wagner carry up cat litter into his apartment, Jake is in for a bit of an eye-opener.
As he’s leaving, prepared to continue hating his Nazi neighbour, he sees a series of photographs on the wall, all of young men, hugging, kissing, laughing. Jake learns something his teacher didn’t tell him. It wasn’t just the Jews who were rounded up. Mr. Wagner’s boyfriend was arrested and was beaten to death for refusing to give the names of other gay men, Mr. Wagner spent time in a concentration camp but survived. It broke my heart a little as he talked of his youth. The touching moment when Jake confronted his boyfriend with what the pink triangle on his Pride shirt really meant and his desire to educate Thad and share Mr. Wagner’s experience was nicely done.
It reminded me of the enthusiasm of youth. They can be very self-centered, only concerned about the cell phones or boy/girlfriends, but they can also enthusiastically take up a cause when it touches them. All of that energy and earnestness of youth poured into a cause. The relationship between Thad and Jake is sweet and there is plenty of kissing, but I really enjoyed seeing Jake’s eyes opened to the fact that the world is not as black and white as we think it is.
My only slight niggle, was that as a Jew, Jake was completely unaware of the holocaust. His mother said it wasn’t something you discuss with children, but even as non-practicing, you’d think that is something that is just a part of the Jewish awareness. And I can understand not discussing it with a 6 year old, but he was 15. But that is minor issue on the whole. I enjoy this author’s YA stories, and I think this particular story serves equally to educate and entertain and is worth reading.