A sensitive exploration of cogent themes in a richly detailed historical setting.

WALLS

Young people, separated by politics and ideology, search for common ground.

Berlin, 1960. His dad’s latest tour of duty brings 15-year-old Drew and his family to a city divided—a fact brought home by meeting his cousin Matthias who lives in the city’s Communist-controlled section. As the teens warily circle each other, conflicting in temperaments as well as doctrinaire views of each other’s cultures but gradually building bonds, Elliott both fills in the historical background—aided by Behm’s mixing of period photos, contemporary news, and pop-culture notes—and crafts a tale of rising tensions that culminates in a suspenseful climax that catches Drew on the wrong side of the east-west barrier that literally springs up overnight and forces Matthias into an agonizing choice between family and freedom. Along with tucking in provocative incidents, like the ugly scene when a pair of drunken GIs spot a Black serviceman and his White German fiancee, the author gives readers food for thought by asking them to envision living under a regime in which neighbors might be informers and then having just such secret accusations leveled both against Matthias and, on the U.S. side, Drew’s parents too. An afterword points to similarities between the Khrushchev-led Communists’ disruptive sowing of fear and suspicion in 1960 and Putin’s in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. The cast mostly presents as White.

A sensitive exploration of cogent themes in a richly detailed historical setting. (sources, photo credits) (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: today

ISBN: 978-1-64375-024-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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Fans of the previous entry will enjoy following the story of a young woman who changes the fates of two countries.

THE BETRAYED

Lady Hollis flees her country after her new husband is killed.

In The Betrothed (2020), Hollis fell in love with Silas, the son of an Isolten family who sought asylum from their cruel king, and chose him over her intended match, King Jameson. Since Silas, his father, his brothers, and her parents have been killed, she decides to travel to Isolte with her mother-in-law and sister-in-law. Formerly primarily interested in dresses, dancing, and romance, Hollis now proves her mettle. Etan, Silas’ cousin, arrives to escort the family, and he clashes with Hollis from the moment they meet. The society they live in, modeled after medieval Europe, with castles, tournaments, kings, queens, and nobles, generally follows traditional gender roles, but Hollis sometimes breaks through the accepted boundaries. When Etan wants to lead a revolt against his own King Quinten, who is just one of the novel’s major betrayers, Hollis uses her wits to get the evidence needed to convince others that he is guilty of crimes against his own people. She bravely returns to Coroa to confront King Jameson when she finds out that he, too, has carried out unspeakable crimes. Hollis and Etan’s verbal wars are fun, predictably leading to love, but the political intrigue sometimes drags the novel down. Characters default to White.

Fans of the previous entry will enjoy following the story of a young woman who changes the fates of two countries. (Historical romance. 13-16)

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-229166-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful.

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SALT TO THE SEA

January 1945: as Russians advance through East Prussia, four teens’ lives converge in hopes of escape.

Returning to the successful formula of her highly lauded debut, Between Shades of Gray (2011), Sepetys combines research (described in extensive backmatter) with well-crafted fiction to bring to life another little-known story: the sinking (from Soviet torpedoes) of the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff. Told in four alternating voices—Lithuanian nurse Joana, Polish Emilia, Prussian forger Florian, and German soldier Alfred—with often contemporary cadences, this stints on neither history nor fiction. The three sympathetic refugees and their motley companions (especially an orphaned boy and an elderly shoemaker) make it clear that while the Gustloff was a German ship full of German civilians and soldiers during World War II, its sinking was still a tragedy. Only Alfred, stationed on the Gustloff, lacks sympathy; almost a caricature, he is self-delusional, unlikable, a Hitler worshiper. As a vehicle for exposition, however, and a reminder of Germany’s role in the war, he serves an invaluable purpose that almost makes up for the mustache-twirling quality of his petty villainy. The inevitability of the ending (including the loss of several characters) doesn’t change its poignancy, and the short chapters and slowly revealed back stories for each character guarantee the pages keep turning.

Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful. (author’s note, research and sources, maps) (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-16030-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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