I’m sure I’ve asked this before, and as I don’t think that I’ll ever come up with a satisfactory answer, I’m sure I’ll ask it again in the future: how many books constitute a trend?
Within the last year, I’ve encountered three books set during the Cold War that specifically deal with the Berlin Wall, with what life was like in divided Berlin. Three books in less than a year doesn’t quite make a trend, but what about a mini-trend? Or is it just an odd coincidence? Am I seeing patterns that are actually there, or am I creating them myself? WHAT DOES IT ALL EVEN MEAN?
(It should be noted that I’m currently neck-deep in my library’s Summer Reading Program, so it’s possible that I’m suffering from some sort of Existential Crisis.)
Anyway. These are the three books that inspired the above meltdown:
Going Over, by Beth Kephart
I read this one last fall, while serving on a Cybils panel. It’s set in both East and West Berlin in 1983, it’s quiet and thoughtful, and Kephart’s prose is, as usual, totally beautiful. It’s a love story told in two voices—a boy in East Germany and a girl in West Germany—and Kephart works in lots of true stories about people who attempted to get over (or under, or through) the wall. She did a lot of research—her author’s note and the bibliography make that very clear—and the book has a really excellent sense of time and place and atmosphere.
It deals with suspicion and trust; it explores what it might be like to try to form a friendship and partnership in that sort of environment; it touches on the things we choose to share with each other and on the things we choose to hold back, both for our own protection and for the protection of our loved ones. As I read, I felt a sense of remarkable distance from the characters—but by the end, I was crying, and it’s stayed with me for all of this time, which says a lot.
The Notorious Pagan Jones, by Nina Berry
This one’s been on my to-read list since it pubbed in May, but due to the aforementioned Summer Madness, I still haven’t gotten to it yet. Set in 1961, it’s about a young-and-troubled actress whose drunk driving results in the deaths of her father and sister. Remanded to the amazingly named Lighthouse Reformatory for Wayward Girls, she’s grieving, lost, and wishing she could have a drink. Enter a handsome-but-probably-untrustworthy dude from her movie studio who whisks her off to West Berlin, where she is catapulted into an adventure involving espionage and intrigue and mystery and danger and, one would assume, romance.
A Night Divided, by Jennifer A. Nielsen
This one comes out later this month, and as Nielsen is the author of the absolutely fabulous The False Prince, I’m VERY much looking forward to reading it. One morning in 1961, 12-year-old Gerta wakes up to discover that a fence has gone up in East Berlin…while her father and brother were in West Berlin, looking for work. Tunneling commences, from both sides—the Kirkus review is quite mixed, but on the strength of her other books, I’m going to give it a try. As it’s based in fact—a lot of families were separated by the Wall—I’m hoping for an author’s note as extensive as the one in Kephart’s book.
What mini-trends—or just patterns—have you been noticing lately?
In addition to running a library in rural Maine, Leila Roy blogs at Bookshelves of Doom, is a contributor at Book Riot, hangs out on Twitter a lot—possibly too much—and watches a shocking amount of television. Her cat is a murderer.