A family is separated overnight when East Berlin erects the Berlin Wall.
Eight-year-old Gerta wakes up on Aug. 13, 1961, to find that a barbed wire fence has been erected around East Berlin. Two days earlier, her father and older brother Dominic had traveled to West Berlin to look for work, and now they can’t get back. Based on historical fact, the story shines a personal light on the many families who were separated by the division of the two cities. Nielsen convincingly paints a chilling picture of repressive, Communist-controlled East Berlin, so much so that when Greta sees her father on the other side of the wall, years later, pantomiming digging, readers easily accept her plan to dig an escape tunnel into West Berlin. As Greta, her other older brother, Fritz, and eventually their mother dig the tunnel, enduring hunger, exhaustion, and risking detection, readers will root for them with every shovelful. However, when the diggers realize the noise they hear is their father digging from the other side and that their tunnels are now only feet apart, instead of pushing through and running to freedom, they decide that they should stop and reinforce the tunnels. This decision seems ludicrous. Further implausible decisions ramp up the tension, but they also ramp up readers’ frustration levels, and a formerly riveting tale of history becomes a melodrama.
Begins wonderfully; ends melodramatically. (Historical fiction. 9-12)