Sunday, November 1, 2015
A Night Divided, by Jennifer A. Nielsen. Scholastic, 2015. $19.99 ages 9 and up
I found it hard to read this book at night. It is filled with a sense of urgency and terror that threatened to keep me from restful sleep. Strange enough, since I know it is a story. Understandable, since I cannot imagine the heartbreak that came when the Berlin Wall was erected, effectively separating families from one another for such a long time.
Jennifer Nielsen is one terrific storyteller, which you will know if you read her Ascendance Trilogy - The False Prince (2013), The Runaway King (2013), and The Shadow Throne (2014). I shared my feelings about each book in earlier posts. She continues with her winning ways in this story about love, freedom and separation. It is very real, and moving.
It happens overnight. Gerta goes to sleep one Saturday night and when she awakens on Sunday morning, it is to find that a wall now separates she, her mother and one brother from her father and their other brother who have been visiting in West Berlin. Gerta is eight when the wall goes up, and it is four long years before the family even begins to consider being reunited. In the meantime, they have had to endure the police state created in East Berlin - a place where neighbors are encouraged to spy on each other, where suspect families are threatened and have their homes bugged so that the government may keep close tabs on their activities.
Gerta and her family have little: their life is bleak, they are hungry, and soon Fritz will be forced to join the Soviet military. A chance sighting of her father and brother on the other side of the wall sets Gerta on a dangerous course. It is her decision to change what is happening, and to find a way to freedom in the West. It is very dangerous to even consider an escape, when you know that you are constantly under surveillance and the slightest mistake is sure to bring you face to face with the Stasi and their cruelty.
Gerta's bravery and love of family guide her to find an answer to the many questions she has about freedom, and a realization of how truly precious it is. Her plan for escape is a tunnel. Sure that she has read her father's secret message correctly, she discovers a place to begin. She may be young, but she is fiercely determined to take the many chances a successful escape demands. With help from her brother and a few surprises along the way, Gerta works to bring the family together, no matter the danger.
Strong storytelling, a memorable cast of characters, a fast pace and a bid for a much better life will find favor with middle graders and anyone wanting to learn about the cold war years.