Elliott, Laura, and Megan Behm. Walls. Algonquin, 2021. 978-1-643-75024-8. $19.95. 352 p. Grades 7-12.
It is 1960, and Drew MacMahon and his family have recently relocated to West Germany. Drew’s mother is thrilled, since her family emigrated to the United States in 1934, and she is eager to reconnect with the great aunt, sister, and nephew that still live behind the “Iron Curtain” on the East Berlin side of the city. Drew has more reserved feelings about his family’s move; he is nervous about starting a new school and meeting his estranged extended East German family. Although he finds his cousin and aunts difficult to understand at first, he develops a tremendous amount of empathy for them and the harshness of life under Communist rule. Over the course of one tumultuous year, Drew tries to navigate his complicated new family members, the tensions of living so close to the border between East and West Germany, and problems of his new schoolmates. At the end of the story, he and his cousin must make a terrifying decision that will change all their lives forever.
THOUGHTS: The family dynamics between Drew, his parents, his sisters, and his East German family are realistic and poignant in this book. Watching Drew’s character and sense of right and wrong, good and evil, and efforts to understand the motivations of his friends at school and the people on both sides of the Cold War was fascinating. The detailed photographs and captions at the beginning of each chapter help the reader gain much-needed context and a greater understanding of the cultural and political climate in the early 1960’s for this important historical novel.
Historical FictionErin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD
Sullivan, Tom. Escape at 10,000 Feet: D.B. Cooper and the Missing Money. (Case Unsolved Crimes). Balzer, 2021. 978-0-062-99151-5 (pbk.). $12.99. 96 p. Grades 3-8.
“I have a bomb here and I would like you to sit by me.” Hi-jacker D. B. Cooper committed one of the only unsolved skyjacking in United States history when he boarded the Northwest Orient Airlines flight traveling from Portland, Oregon, to Seattle, Washington, on November 24, 1971. Weak or non-existent airline security gave rise to a rash of plane hi-jackings at the end of the Cold War. Author Tom Sullivan arranges the story according to six different steps and relates the interesting heist peppered with stylistic drawings and facsimiles of boarding passes and other airline paraphernalia. From our 21st century perspective, Cooper’s seemingly modest demand of $200,000 was readily granted by the head of the airline. His well-planned crime, however, did not go smoothly. He requested parachutes and directed where and how he wanted to escape from the plane; however, when the money arrived, it was in smaller denominations making the parachute backpack heavier than he anticipated. After Cooper stepped out of the plane, no trace of him was uncovered despite a thorough FBI search. In 1980, a family camping along the Columbia River uncovered deteriorating packs of $20 bills. This quick, cleverly illustrated book will interest reluctant readers especially.
THOUGHTS: This fun book has broad appeal. Though the information may not be of high value in terms of curriculum, Escape at 10,000 Feet. . . is a perfect match for students who crave short, easy non-fiction with lots of interesting facts.
Graphic Novel Bernadette Cooke, SD Philadelphia
364.15 Criminal Offenses
Kiem, Elizabeth. Dancer Daughter Traitor Spy A Novel. New York: Soho Press, Inc., 2013. 978-1-61695-263-1. 264 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.
Marina is born in to a life of privilege. She is a ballerina for The Bolshoi Ballet, a given since her mother, Sveta is the principal dancer for The Bolshoi. Her life is made up of school and ballet rehearsal and not much else. Marina has a vision which she does not understand. She sees the future; what she does not know, is that her mother can see the past. This becomes problematic for the Soviet Government because Marina’s father, Vitya is a bio-chemist. As Vitya speaks of his work to Sveta, she begins to “see” what actually happened in a village called Lukino. Working together, they piece together details of a huge cover-up in Lukino. Marina comes home from Ballet practice one day to find her mother gone. It is the day Leonid Brezhnev died; Vitya gets a call to let him know that Sveta has been institutionalized. Enter Gosha, the best man from Sveta and Vitya’s wedding. He dabbles in the black market, he can get things done. He gets Marina and Vitya phony passports and they flee Russia and head for the US before they can be named enemies of the state. In the United States, they attempt to find a way to get information through to The Soviet Union about Lukino in exchange for Sveta. Marina auditions for the American Ballet Theatre and gets in. Her father is sure that she will meet the Russian contact through her dancing. She ends up being partnered with another Soviet, Sergei, but who does Sergei work for and can he be trusted?
Historical Fiction (Cold War Era) Kathryn Gilbride, North Pocono High and Middle Schools
This novel fascinated me. As a child who grew up in the 1980’s, The Cold War was a big part of my childhood. The Soviet-US battle for World Supremacy was center stage during my High School years. The ballet theme also intrigued me, and I was reading this book during the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games. One of the commentators said the three things Russians do well are Hockey, Ice-Skating and Ballet. Many defectors came to the US from The Soviet Union through the touring ballet companies. This book could be used to exhibit the lengths the KGB and The Soviet Union would go through to cover up secrets.