A Night Divided

A Night Divided

By Jennifer Nielsen

Publishing Info: New York: Scholastic Press, 2015

ISBN: HC-9780545682428

Pages: 317

Ages: Grades 5-8

Annotation: When the Berlin Wall went up, Gerta, her mother, and her brother Fritz are trapped on the eastern side where they were living, while her father, and her other brother Dominic are in the West. Four years later, Gerta sees her father on a viewing platform on the western side and realizes he wants her to risk her life trying to tunnel to freedom.

Summary: With the rise of the Berlin Wall, twelve-year-old Gerta finds her family divided overnight. 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?

Subject Headings & Major Themes:

  • Historical Fiction
  • Communism
  • Families--Germany--Berlin--Juvenile fiction
  • Berlin Wall, Berlin, Germany, 1961-1989--Juvenile fiction
  • Germany (East)--History-20th century--Juvenile fiction

Booklist, August 2015
Kirkus Reviews, June 2015
School Library Journal, August 2015
VOYA Reviews, October 2015

Discussion Questions: 
  1. Throughout the book, Gerta's sole desire is to have her family reunited. What would you do if your family was separated like her's was? Would it be easier if you were with particular family members?
  2. Courage is a big theme in this book. at one point Gerta and Fritz are talking and he asks if she would ever attempt to escape, and she says she would only try escaping if she knew she would succeed because "that's all the courage in me". Fritz answers, "Courage isn't knowing you can do something. It's only being willing to try." Do you agree more with Gerta's or Fritz's definition of courage? Why?
  3. It's very difficult to trust people in East Germany, including friends, family members, and neighbors. Who are some of these people? How did they break Gerta's trust? Is breaking that trust a forgivable thing?
  4. On the flip side, Gerta is also forced to place her trust with people that she has not reason to. Would you be able to trust someone who had not earned it, or who had not shown themselves to be trustworthy? Would it depend on the situation? What kind of situations would warrant blind trust? 
  5. Do you think the risks that Gerta and her family take are worth it? Is it right for her father to ask Gerta, Fritz, and her mother to take such risks? Does her father also take risks?

Related Websites:
The History Channel: The Berlin Wall (includes articles, videos, and related topics)

HistoryToday: The Berlin Wall (article about the Berlin Wall along with a timeline of events)

The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, 2008
Countdown by Deborah Wiles, 2010
Going Over by Beth Kephart, 2014 (Grades 8+)
Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages, 2006

The Other Side of the Wall: A Graphic Memoir by Simon Schwartz, 2015
When the Wall Came Down: The Berlin Wall and the Fall of Soviet Communism by Serge Schmemann, 2006

Other Selected Work by the Author:

The Ascendance Trilogy:
The False Prince, 2012
The Runaway King, 2013
The Shadow Throne, 2014

The Mark of the Thief, 2015 
The Rise of the Wolf (Mark of the Thief Book 2), 2016

About the Author:
At the age of eleven, Jennifer A. Nielsen wrote her first full-length novel. But she abandoned the manuscript when a local locksmith halted her research on picking locks. As a kid growing up in northern Utah, Jennifer constantly read and reread The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken.

A major influence for The False Prince the first book in the Ascendance Trilogy, came from the music of Eddie Vedder, the lead singer of the seminal grunge band Pearl Jam. Vedder’s Grammy-winning track “Guaranteed” was the inspiration for Sage, her protagonist. From the lyrics “I knew all the rules, but the rules did not know me,” Sage was born. 

Although Sage’s personality is his own, Jennifer borrowed two of his traits from a couple of high school students she once taught. One of them was popular, brilliant, and relentlessly mischievous. He could steal the watch off a person’s wrist without his knowing and would return it to him later, usually to his embarrassment. The other student had a broad spectrum of impressive talents, not the least of which was his ability to roll a coin over his knuckles. If he had wanted to, he’d have made a fine pickpocket. As it was, he went on to become a lawyer. 

Jennifer is also the author of Eliot and the Goblin War the first book in a humorous middle-grade fantasy series. She lives in northern Utah with her husband and their three children.