Tuesday, July 31, 2018
Books I've Read: Cloud and Wallfish
I picked this up from the YA shelves at the library, but it's really more a middle-grade book than YA. Which is not to say I didn't enjoy it because I did. It's the second book I've read recently set behind the Berlin Wall, yet was quite different to the last.
It's 1989 and Noah doesn't know what to think when his folks pick him up after school one day in a rental car and explain that they're leaving for Germany. What's more, he now has a new name, a new birthday and a whole past that has been inveted for him. There are also a new set of rules the family have to live by.
The family move to East Berlin, a gray city that smells of coal smoke and paranoia. Noah (now called Jonah) discovers there are secrets piled on secrets, even within his own family. Lonely and isolated, Noah/Jonah gravitates toward the equally lonely girl who lives in the apartment below him. Between them they try to figure out ways to understand the strangeness of the city they live in, and what it might be like beyond the Wall.
But when Cloud's parents are killed in a car crash, something about the story doesn't ring true and Cloud and Noah suddenly have yet more secrets to unravel. And all around them, there are rumblings of change in the air.
I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would. The setting is compelling, especially since 1989 was when the Eastern Bloc started to come apart. The book ends, in fact, on the night the Wall fell in Berlin. Most books about this period in history focus on people from the Eastern side trying desperately to get to the West. This one is different because the Keller family go from the West - form the USA, in fact - to the East.
In between the chapters about Noah and his family and Cloud are interspersed 'secret files' in which the author gives background on aspects of East German life and history. These generally realate to something that has happened in the chapter, so there is context for them being there. In many ways, I enjoyed reading these secret files more than the story!
So if you like middle grade books, and have an interest in modern history, this one is probably for you.
But don't just listen to me. Here's the blurb:
Noah Keller has a pretty normal life, until one wild afternoon when his parents pick him up from school and head straight for the airport, telling him on the ride that his name isn’t really Noah and he didn’t really just turn eleven in March. And he can’t even ask them why — not because of his Astonishing Stutter, but because asking questions is against the newly instated rules. (Rule Number Two: Don’t talk about serious things indoors, because Rule Number One: They will always be listening).
As Noah—now "Jonah Brown"—and his parents head behind the Iron Curtain into East Berlin, the rules and secrets begin to pile up so quickly that he can hardly keep track of the questions bubbling up inside him: Who, exactly, is listening — and why? When did his mother become fluent in so many languages? And what really happened to the parents of his only friend, Cloud-Claudia, the lonely girl who lives downstairs?