Published by Scholastic on August 25, 2015
Genres: Young Adult, Action & Adventure, General, Family, Historical, Europe, Thrillers & Suspense
Format: Advanced Review Copy
I received this book for free from Scholastic in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Buy on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, The King's English
With the rise of the Berlin Wall, twelve-year-old Gerta finds her family divided overnight. She, her mother, and her brother Fritz live on the eastern side, controlled by the Soviets. Her father and middle brother, who had gone west in search of work, cannot return home. Gerta knows it is dangerous to watch the wall, to think forbidden thoughts of freedom, yet she can't help herself. She sees the East German soldiers with their guns trained on their own citizens; she, her family, her neighbors and friends are prisoners in their own city.
But one day, while on her way to school, Gerta spots her father on a viewing platform on the western side, pantomiming a peculiar dance. Then, when she receives a mysterious drawing, Gerta puts two and two together and concludes that her father wants Gerta and Fritz to tunnel beneath the wall, out of East Berlin. However, if they are caught, the consequences will be deadly. No one can be trusted. Will Gerta and her family find their way to freedom?
I loved Jennifer A. Nielsen’s The False Prince when I read it almost three years ago. So, when I found out she had a new historical novel lined up, I knew I had to have it. I snagged a copy at ALA along with a brief hello during her signing at the Scholastic booth. And now, I’ve read it.
Telling the story of Germany after WWII is a difficult one. It wasn’t all that long ago, really (the wall came down when I was three, so I have no recollection of it, but many people alive today do). But, it’s intense and heartbreaking. In many ways, the struggle that people felt when they were separated nearly overnight by a wall going through their series mirrors the experiences of immigrants around the world today. Situations in modern-day Europe and America are not much different. Families still struggle to stay together and it’s equally heartbreaking. I thought a lot about them as I read this book.
With that being said, I wished this novel was a little better paced and that the plot was tighter. Jennifer Nielsen’s False Prince excelled at this, with some unexpected twists. I found myself baffled by some of the choices the characters made, and even a few at the end felt contrived or a way to increase tension. Once the children started digging, I felt like so much of the action and setting focused on that one thing, when I really wanted more about the wall or life in East Germany.
Is it worth reading? Absolutely. I think this is a very accessible novel for younger teens and a way to shed some light on a piece of history that is often overlooked. The war didn’t end with the armistice agreement. And this is a very solid narrative that will help explain some of that terror and distrust.