Enter the story in 1944 (World War II), where the blast of an air raid siren sends two girls tumbling from their beds and into a basement shelter; then go back in time to 1937, where Hedy is a winner in a competition certain to make the Furher proud of his young warriors. This win will earn her a position in his Youth Gathering in Cologne, a high honor, indeed, for one not yet fourteen.
Hedy's classmates are in the SS and in special corps serving the Furher, and their lives take on new meaning in an adult world where they are usually directed instead of respected.
More so than most similar books about Hitler's youth movement, Darker the Night chooses a powerful character (Hedy) to portray how youth were affected by his ideals and encouraged to participate in increasingly dark events. It's often about seeking and gaining approval from peers and adults alike: and just as frequently, events pose a strange juxtaposition between adult training and concerns and a child's eye view of the world just beginning to change as they teeter on the cusp of adulthood.
By interspersing these moments of a child's life and innocence with the insidious unwinding of events to come, London's survey succeeds, more so than most young adult reads, in capturing the flavors of both the times and the sentiments of young people determined to fit in and establish a position for themselves in life.
As Hedy continues to mature and comes to make some difficult decisions about friends, enemies, and her future, she finds herself constantly walking a thin line between survival and ethics, making decisions that often tend to thwart the effects of starvation and challenges to life itself.
And as she interacts with Americans and Germans alike, she savors the good things that evolve in her world (for, yes, there is good - it's not all darkness) and battles against those which would drag down her and her family.
Each chapter opens with a quote from a speech or piece of propaganda to give a flavor of the times and its influences, and each section offers new opportunities for reflection and understanding; because just as events in Germany weren't singular, so Hedy is a complex character whose perceptions aren't based on political correctness today, but on the experiences of a young German citizen confused about her country's direction and its real actions.
Against this backdrop, Hedy's coming of age isn't just political: it's a personal saga personal, throughout. This approach gives the book a stunningly realistic, absorbing quality that will make it a powerful juxtaposition to Diary of Anne Frank, recounting the youth experience from quite a different vantage point and making it a special recommendation for a companion read and contrast to Anne Frank's more famous Diary's perspective.