Author: Jennifer A. Nielsen
Length: 384 pages
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?
Protagonist: Gerta was only eight when the Berlin wall divided not only East and West Berlin, but her family as well. It's not until four years later that she has a chance to escape East Berlin's oppressive regime and reunite with her family. So, looking back I realized that Gerta didn't have all that much character development, but honestly I don't mind it. Really the only thing that changes about her is her resolve and determination to leave, it starts out pretty strong but over time steels into something stronger. She's a fairly ingenious character and the way she solved many of the problems with the tunnel was amazing.
World-Building: So this book is historical fiction, but at times that was hard to remember because this book, in a lot of ways, felt very much like a dystopian book. Sure it's not futuristic and doesn't have the typical sci-fi elements that most dystopians do, but what it does have far outweighs what it doesn't. East Berlin was a very oppressive, censored, and militaristic place. A place where even talking about escaping to the West was grounds for arrest, if not worse. The Soviets wanted the people of East Berlin to not only be satisfied with their lives but also to believe that living there was the height of accomplishment, that there was no where else they'd rather be. To view this place as a dystopian is one thing, but then to realize that this isn't the construct of one authors mind is something all together different. This actually happened. The characters may be dreamt up by the author, but the setting was all to real.
Predictability: So in this book it's easy to predict some of the bigger things happening, but what I realized while reading this book was that it wasn't about what was going to happen but how. This book has some very intense moments and because it's told from just Gerta's first person POV, it's easy to assume that she lives throughout this book. However, when put not only in tough but dangerous situations the real surprises are how Gerta will get out of it. Also, just because Gerta may live doesn't mean everyone else will. I've always loved the little surprises that Nielsen puts in her books. She is a wiz at writing beautiful and amazing foreshadowing that gives just the right amount of information without completely ruining any surprises that may await the reader.
Ending: So, the ending is the only thing I was bummed by, well, actually bummed isn't the right word. The ending was extremely satisfying and because of that it won't negatively affect the overall rating, but I don't know I was hoping for more of an epilogue-esque ending, maybe something from Gerta's POV when the Berlin wall came down. But still I did really enjoy the ending and for a standalone I was very impressed. I never felt like there was something missing or that the ending needed to be extended, it's just something that would have been nice to see.
So I knew I was going to like this book, mainly because it is a book written by Jennifer A. Nielsen, however I wasn't prepared for how much I was going to love this book. It's seriously amazing and the message behind it is so hauntingly beautiful. If you want to win an ARC of this book I'm having a giveaway for one here.