With the rise of the Berlin Wall, twelve-year-old Gerta finds her family suddenly divided. She, her mother, and her brother Fritz live on the eastern side, controlled by the Soviets. Her father and middle brother, who had gone west in search of work, cannot return home. Gerta knows it is dangerous to watch the wall, to think forbidden thoughts of freedom, yet she can't help herself. She sees the East German soldiers with their guns trained on their own citizens; she, her family, her neighbors and friends are prisoners in their own city.
But one day, while on her way to school, Gerta spots her father on a viewing platform on the western side, pantomiming a peculiar dance. Then, when she receives a mysterious drawing, Gerta puts two and two together and concludes that her father wants Gerta and Fritz to tunnel beneath the wall, out of East Berlin. However, if they are caught, the consequences will be deadly. No one can be trusted. Will Gerta and her family find their way to freedom?
Grades 4-7. Four years after the Berlin Wall went up, in 1961, 12-year-old Gerta Lowe is eager for freedom and to reunite her family. Separated from her father on Germany’s west side, Gerta, her brother Fritz, and her mother live in East Germany under Communist rule and near-relentless scrutiny. One day, she sees her father on a platform overlooking the wall, and she realizes he’s trying to send her a message: dig a tunnel! With the help of Fritz, the two siblings plan carefully, overcome dangerous obstacles, and then face the toughest task of all: convincing their mother to escape with them. Although Nielsen (The False Prince, 2012) relegates the action to the end of the book, the story’s palpable tension and stark details of daily life in Communist East Germany will hold readers’ interest. Gerta is a strong narrator—courageous, insightful, brave—whose fiery desire for freedom from communism is noteworthy. Though historical novels may not appeal to every reader, this is equally a story of pressure and friendship, suspicion and strength, forgiveness and understanding.