I’m sure some of you were probably wondering why I posted a blank post. I’m so sorry about that! What I had saved earlier didn’t show up – which has happened a couple times in the past – so I had to switch it back to a draft and try to fix everything the way I had it before. I appreciate those that did like the post though! But hopefully you’ll actually like it now that there’s something to see.
Thank you again so much to Algonquin Young Readers for having me on this blog tour for Walls. This was a book unlike any other. I’m excited to share my review with you here.
by L. M. Elliott
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Release Date: July 27, 2021
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Length: 352 pages
Drew is an army brat, a hotshot athlete poised to be his high school’s star pitcher, when he has to move for the sixth time in fifteen years—this time to West Berlin, where American soldiers like his dad hold an outpost of democracy against communist Russia in Hitler’s former capital. Meanwhile, in East Berlin, his cousin Matthias has grown up in the wreckage left by Allied bombing during World War II, on streets ruled by the Communist Party’s secret police.
From the opposing sides of the Cold War, Drew and Matthias begin to overcome the many ideological walls between them to become wary friends. They argue over the space race, capitalism, socialism, and even the American civil rights movement, and bond over rock ’n’ roll—music outlawed in Matthias’s part of the city. If Matthias is caught by the Stasi’s neighborhood spies with the records or books Drew has given him, he will be sent to a work camp for “re-education.” At the same time, Drew’s friendship with the East Berlin Jugend—who ardently spout communist dogma—raises suspicions about his family’s loyalty to America. As the political situation around them gets all the more dire, Drew and Matthias’s loyalty—to their sector, their countries, their families, and each other—will be tested in ways that will change their lives forever.
Set in the tumultuous year leading up to the surprise overnight raising of the Berlin Wall in August 1961, and punctuated with real-life photographs, headlines, and personalities of the time, Walls brings to vivid life the heroic and tragic choices of the Cold War.
L.M. Elliott was an award-winning magazine journalist in Washington, D.C., before becoming a New York Times bestselling author of historical and biographical young adult novels. Her works include Under a War-Torn Sky, Suspect Red, and Hamilton and Peggy.
Disclaimer: I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you to L. M. Elliott, Netgalley and Algonquin Young Readers for this free copy. All quotes in this review are taken from the Advanced Reader Copy and may change in final publication.
"West Berliners park on our side of Zimmerstraße all the time without any trouble. In this neighborhood, at least, there is cooperation between the sectors."
It’s August 1960. WWII may be over, but the Cold War is in full effect. Germany is split in half: West Germany held by NATO countries, and East Berlin by the Warsaw Pact countries. Berlin itself is also split in half in a similar fashion: the Russians have the East, and America, Great Britain, and France share the West, each with their own sectors. It’s considered a Cold War because there were no large-scale battles fought directly between the two superpowers, but they each supported major regional conflicts known as proxy wars.
This is something that some history classes may have taught you – the accuracy and the exact kind of information taught in different schools varies and will be something I can’t directly comment on – but the Cold War is an event that the world has knowledge on. What some of us don’t have, like those born after the Cold War like me, is personal experiences of what actually happened, what life was like, and how things changed between the end of WWII and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Elliot does what she needs to in order to bring this human side of the Cold War into the forefront, from the eyes of an American teenage boy living with his family in West Berlin. Why? Well his father is stationed there, and from what it sounds like, his father was ecstatic about the change in duty station. Luckily, Drew isn’t the only military child on this trip, as he has both his older and younger sister with him. Not only that, but once in Germany, they find out that their mom actually has a sister still in Germany, and they finally get to meet her and her son after all this time. Yes, finding out you have additional family and being able to meet them should be an amazing experience, but in this case, maybe not.
Maybe not, because with the tensions of the events of WWII still fresh in everyone’s minds, having German relatives automatically relates to having Nazi relatives – at least according to those who can’t tell the difference.
Grabbing another handful of Fritos, Bob said, "Your mom's German?" "Half. Her mother immigrated to the United States right after World War I. Her sister stayed here, though. That'd be my great-aunt, I guess." "So... you have Nazis in your family."
Clearly all Germans are Nazis, according to the other army brats living in Berlin. At least this person, Bob, who I do not like at all. I could stand to not hear about him anymore. There are others that know better, and luckily Drew finds someone like this rather early in this new duty station, but nonetheless it’s something that Drew has to be wary about.
One of the best things that could have happened to Drew was meeting his cousin Matthias. Sure, when they first meet, they are extremely wary of one another. It’s almost an immediate dislike, and from the preconceived notions that both of them have about the other person, the other country, the other side of the war, it only makes sense that there’s a bit of animosity there. But the good thing about this is that they now have the opportunity to learn about other points of view besides their own. Drew has to learn that not everything America does is correct, and Matthias has to learn that not everything Germany does is correct either. Both aren’t perfect. Both aren’t evil. Both are just different, and learning about your country and your beliefs through the eyes of someone else can truly allow you to understand the bigger picture.
"I am a nurse at Charité Hospital, where they are training me to be a doctor." "A woman doctor?" The woman stared at her in amazement. "Yes," answered Cousin Marta. "One of the good things about the socialist state is the equality of opportunity. Women who are found capable are trained as readily as men to be doctors. Almost half the doctors delivering babies at Charité are female."
For once, I am able to find a historical fiction novel that isn’t directly taking place in WWII, and its a bit refreshing to say the least. From what I have seen, WWII seems to fascinate a lot of people, to the point that there are so many historical fiction novels taking place in WWII. Having a story that takes place during the Cold War, albeit still in Europe, was something that appealed to me early on when I learned about this book. It’s a different time in history, even if it happened after WWII, and one can see just how much can shift in the years after a major world war. For those like me who haven’t experienced it firsthand, it’s quite jarring to think about what people our age had to go through, and how they needed to be a little more aware than we are right now.
I believe that Elliott did a swell job in portraying this story, and it is one that reminds readers that there is never a situation that is clear cut, where everything is black and white and knowing right from wrong is simple. It reminds readers that there is a human element to war and its aftermath, and that so many people can be affected by the actions of others, even if they never wanted to be involved in the first place.