Goodreads: A Night Divided
Publication Date: August 25, 2015
The night the Berlin wall goes up, Gerta’s family is divided. Her father and second oldest brother are in the west, while Gerta, her oldest brother, and her mother are left in the east. But as the years pass and it becomes more and more dangerous to think, to speak, and to act, Gerta cannot stop thinking about what it would be like to get past the wall. Then, she sees her father far away on a viewing platform, performing her silly childhood nighttime song. In it, she sees a message to dig. Now Gerta must decide how much she is willing to risk for a chance at freedom and reuniting her family.
A Night Divided takes readers to the eastern side of the Berlin wall and shows them life through the eyes of Gerta, a spunky twelve-year-old who refuses to believe she must accept life the way it is, full of fear and restrictions. Her constant questioning of the system can at times seem naïve, as though she does not understand the dangers of revolting against the government even as she watches the Stasi come for friends and neighbors, but her determination that things should be different also instills hope in a story that could quickly become deeply depressing. Gerta, smart and strong-willed in the face of opposition, is a character readers will want to meet.
The plot has one simple goal: Gerta must tunnel to freedom before she is found and killed. Most middle grade books are optimistic at their cores, so it is difficult to imagine Gerta will eventually meet with anything less than success, yet Nielsen does throw a lot of obstacles in the way of Gerta’s progress to help build suspense. Practically no one in East Berlin can be trusted when providing the Stasi with juicy information about others can lead to so many rewards, so Gerta is hard-pressed to hide her illegal activities—even from members of her own family. So while it is hard to think that Gerta might actually be killed in the novel, there is still a sense of danger and pervasive mistrust.
The tone is lightened by the presence of Gerta’s brother Fritz. Fritz, about to be enlisted into the military and sent on the most dangerous missions as punishment for his father’s supposed crimes about the government, has worries of his own. Yet he always has a smile for Gerta, time to help her, and quick-witted solutions for many of her problems. With brothers like Fritz, it is easy to see why Gerta is willing to risk so much for her family. Gerta’s mother is initially a harder sell—a woman so attached to her home and so afraid of leaving that she is the “reason” half the family is stuck in East Berlin at all. However, Gerta’s actions help her mother question her own previous decisions, and by the end of the novel all the family has each other’s backs. Their support for each other provides stability in a world where it is so easy to be suspicious.
A Night Divided lacks the wild sense of possibility, suspense, and surprise that characterized Nielsen’s debut The False Prince. However, it does feature a strong female protagonist, a thoughtfully elaborate plot, and a good overview of what it would have been like to live in East Berlin. A great historical fiction choice for a middle school classroom.