Growing Up... with his loving, free-spirited mother Rosie. Though he likes to think of himself as a mature soldier, Johannes “Jojo” Betzler is only 10 years old.
Living... through dark times. Jojo lives in Nazi Germany during the late stages of World War II. The Nazi regime is beginning to crumble, which has only made its followers more desperate in their actions. Jojo’s older sister recently died of influenza and his father is off fighting on the Italian Front—although no one’s heard from him in a while.
Visiting... his first Hitler Youth training camp. Jojo has been dreaming of this day for as long as he can remember. However, when he’s ordered to kill a rabbit, Jojo realizes he might not actually have the stomach for war that he thinks he does.
Profession... Nazi-in-training. When Jojo is badly injured at his Hitler Youth camp, he gets reassigned to an office job instead. He collects scrap metal and passes out propaganda while feeling self-conscious about his scars and limp.
Interests... hanging out with his imaginary best friend, Adolf Hitler. He’s Jojo’s personal cheerleader and helps him deal with all sorts of insecurities. Like when Jojo asks, “Adolf? Do you think I’m ugly?”
Relationship Status... infatuated with the wrong person. Jojo is shocked to discover his mother has been secretly hiding a Jewish teenager named Elsa Korr in his sister’s old room. Though Jojo has been taught to hate Jews, he finds himself captivated by Elsa instead. But as Jojo notes, “I’m way too busy for a girlfriend.”
Challenge... figuring out what to do about Elsa. The law says Jojo must report her to the Gestapo, however, doing so would put his mother in danger for harboring her. Plus Elsa isn’t exactly shy when it comes to defending herself. For now, Jojo decides to study her and write down his findings in a book for his commanding officer. As he puts it, “Please take this seriously. Think of this as an exposé. I want to know all your secrets.” Yet the more Jojo gets to know Elsa, the more he begins to question what he’s been taught about the evilness of the Jewish people.
Personality... angry, self-righteous, and secretly questioning. Jojo wholeheartedly buys into the Nazi belief system and strives to live a life of violence, intimidation, and discipline. Yet he’s also influenced by his mother, who argues that fun and optimism are the most important tenants in life. At the end of the day, Jojo is ultimately just an overwhelmed little boy caught up in deeply confusing times. No matter how hard he tries to hide it, Jojo’s inherent kindnesses keeps bursting through.
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