I’m back from my summer hols in Norfolk and Barcelona and ready to blog. I read a bunch while I was away and have a substantial backlog of books to post about, so let’s get to it! This week turns out to be Jennifer A. Nielsen week. Later this week I’ll write about the second book in the Mark of the Thief series, and today I’m looking at her first venture away from fantasy adventure and into historical fiction.
This slightly leaden story of the Cold War is set in 1965 Berlin, which has been physically divided for four years. 12 year old Gerta’s family is also physically divided – her father and one brother are in the West and she, her mother, and other brother, Fritz, are in the East. Gerta longs for the freedom she believes she’ll find in the West and, after her father sends her an elaborate message, she and Fritz start digging a tunnel that will go under the Death Strip and the Wall and into West Berlin.
The novel initially plods along, much like the digging of the tunnel, and the siblings face and overcome one setback after another, but I became much more engaged in the outcome when the pace picks up as the pressure mounts on them to break through before the net closes around them.
Nielsen does a good job of capturing the oppressive regime in East Berlin, with citizens spying and informing on each other, and where the State feels it should be able to control what you think, do and say. Greta and family encounter the Stasi, the feared secret police, several chilling times.
Gerta is a spunky, obstinate protagonist who drives her family into this plan, preferring to take the risk for freedom than live a life dominated by fear and caution. Gerta finds herself lying, deceiving and betraying, but assures herself that it is justified by the potential end result.
Middle grade readers will learn about the Cold War and life in Eastern Berlin from an inside perspective, though more background and context notes along with suggested further reading would be helpful.
Reviewed from an ARC.