The building of the Berlin Wall pits lovers of freedom against an oppressive regime in this gripping novel for middle graders.
*A Night Divided by Jennifer Nielsen. Scholastic, 2015, 317 pages
Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 10-12
Recommended for: ages 12-16
Berlin, 1961: Gerta’s father knows they should escape the Communist iron grip that is slowly closing on their city, but her mother hesitates . . . until the choice is taken from her, and most other choices, too. While Father is in West Berlin looking for a job and a place to live, the wall goes up. Literally overnight. Just like that, the family is divided: Father and younger brother Dominic in the West, Mother in the East with 12-year-old Gerta and 17-year-old Fritz. Mail is stopped, telephone communication severed. All options are blocked until the day, two years later, when Gerta spots her father standing on the wall performing an odd little dance. It appears he wants her to dig. Could he mean a tunnel? And if so, where?
In spite of some barely-believable coincidences and gaps, readers will come to care for this family and hope for their eventual reunion. Jennifer Nielsen is not a great prose stylist, but she’s an effective storyteller, expertly using suspense and tension to build to a climax. A Night Divided is also strong on theme, and there’s no escaping the point: Communism is bad, freedom is good. Faithful people (whose Christian faith is evident) win; the godless lose. Not all Cold War stories ended this hopefully, of course, but this is a valuable resource for introducing young readers to that conflict and what was at stake. We’re always fighting these battles, in various guises.
Also by this author: The False Prince, The Runaway King
Cautions: Intense situations (Gerta threatened by state police, friends disappear)
Overall Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
- Worldview/moral value: 5
- Artistic value: 3.75
Cover image from Barnes & Noble