Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Night Divided - Jennifer A. Nielsen

Summary: From New York Times bestselling author Jennifer A. Nielsen comes a stunning thriller about a girl who must escape to freedom after the Berlin Wall divides her family between east and west.

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? (Summary and image from

Review: A few weeks ago my husband and I watched Bridge of Spies for our date night.  About three quarters of the way through the movie, we realized that our two oldest (the little interlopers) were avidly watching from their "rooms", and we reluctantly allowed them to join us.  They're getting to the age where history is interesting and they're smart enough to want to know the causes and effects of some of these historical events.  The watching of the show prompted a few questions, including a discussion on the creation of the Berlin Wall, and a family viewing of Night Crossing (anyone remember that movie?  Anyone?).  Sometimes, however, I'm not sure I'm putting the events into context that my children can grasp, and when this is the case, I look to books to help that gap.

A Night Divided is one of the perfect books for this era in history.  Greta and her mother and brother find themselves frighteningly separated from her brother and father, who were in West Berlin looking for an escape when the wall went up.  For five years, she and her East Berlin family struggle to survive, missing their family in West Berlin desperately, until a silly dance viewed from across the wall and a mysterious drawing land in Greta's hands.  She and her brother race to dig under the wall before her brother is drafted and taken away for good, all the time hiding their work from their mother, neighbors, and friends.

Because this story is written for the newer Middle Grade levels, it's more simplistic than a history book.  However, the emotions that Greta feels through the separation, the work, and the living under repression are perfectly captured for the age group.  It is one I have no fears turning over to my own kids or recommending out.

Sadly, our discussions about the Berlin Wall led to my first "I'm so OLD" moment. My kids were flabbergasted that I was old enough to remember the wall coming down, to see families reunited, and to watch the celebrations of a city reunited on the news.  To them, that's ancient history (it was, after all, almost THIRTY years ago. Sheesh.). To me?  I can still smell the toast cooking as we watched the news in my grandmother's kitchen.

Rating: 4.5 stars

For the Sensitive Reader: There are a few deaths, one takes place in front of Greta, and an abduction of a neighbor.  All tastefully handled.

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