A quietly tense historical fiction drama that sheds light on life in Soviet East Berlin.
Recommended grade level: 4-7
Pages: 317 (for ISBN 9780545682428)
Summary: 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? (from Source)
Who will like this book?: This tense story full of plots and secrets may appeal to readers of adventure and spy fiction (although the action is not quite non-stop enough in this one to call it an action or adventure novel itself). Readers of World War II and Holocaust stories should be interested in this often-overlooked period in German history. Dystopian fans may like the reading about a real-life oppressive government.
Who won’t like this book?: The majority of the book is spent digging a tunnel, and though constant new challenges arise, there is no variety in scenery and little change in the characters’ goals. Some reads may find it slow because of this.
What to read next: For younger readers, Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin is another book about living under the Russian Communist regime, this time in Russia itself. Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Septys, is another story about a family torn apart by Communism. (This title is a little more mature, recommended for grades 8 and up.)