Title: The Man Next Door
Author: J. Tomas
Publisher: JMS Books
Pages: 8,447 words Short Story
Characters: Jake, Mr. Wagner
Sub-Genre: Young Adult
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.
Fifteen year old Jake is obsessed with one thing, and one thing only–spending every waking moment with his boyfriend Thad. Jake and his mom live in an apartment complex, and his boyfriend Thad is a year older than him. Thad has a driver’s license and a beater car, and Jake thinks it is cool as can be.
When an elderly neighbor moves into the apartment next door, Jake is shocked to discover that the 80-year old Mr. Wagner is from Germany. He speaks with a very thick accent and looks really mean. Jake doesn’t like him. He’s learned about the horrors of the Holocaust in school, and he becomes convinced that Mr. Wagner is a Nazi.
Both Jake’s mother and Thad try to convince Jake that he is perhaps rushing to judgment and suggest that maybe he is being prejudiced, but Jake will not hear of it. His mind is made up. Mr. Wagner is old, from Germany, and he is not Jewish. Therefore he is either a Nazi or he was a Nazi sympathizer. Jake hates him.
One day while returning from the market with his mom, they spot Mr. Wagner walking. He’s carrying a heavy bag of cat litter, and Jake’s mom tells him to help the elderly gentleman by carrying the bag up the steps for him. Reluctantly, Jake obeys his mother. When Mr. Wagner ushers Jake inside the apartment, Jake discovers a startling secret about his mysterious neighbor.
This short story was a bit of a tear jerker. In a few short pages it delivers a very big message about judging and unfair stereotypes. It’s a story that can be appreciated not only by the young adult audience, but also by readers of all ages, gay and straight.
Reviewed By: Jeff