The other side of the Second World War

A Night Divided by Jennifer Nielson

This is an amazing older children or young adult book about Berlin after the end of the Second World War. Now, previously my history on that subject is a little dicey. As I recall it went something like “And then the Allies won the war and divided up Berlin with a wall, which was eventually torn down but we’ll cover that later in the semester”. We didn’t.

Gerta’s Papa and brother cross the into West Berlin one night to see if there’s a job for Papa there, away from the censorship and depression of East Berlin. That night, the Soviets ┬áput up a fence, cutting Gerta off from half her family. Slowly over the next few years it turns from a fence to a wall to a manned wall and an overbearing state presence that controls every part of her life. One day she sees her father watching from the other side of the wall and he’s trying to tell her something, a way to bring them all back together. But it will mean becoming an enemy of the state and risking not just her life, but her family and friends as well.

This story is an incredibly moving depiction of a young person dreaming in a world that crushes dreams. Obviously the subject matter is a little complicated and if you’re not reading it with your child or your class you should still be prepared to have a talk with your young person about the historical context and the effects of war more broadly. This is a serious story, with only the lightest touch of humour in it ┬ábut a really moving and genuine, particularly focusing on the strength of relationships between people in hard times and that keeps it from being totally depressing. Also, the writing is very on point – if you’re not feeling nervous for the whole last half, I’m not sure you’re a human.

I strongly recommend this book (seriously) and I would recommend it even if it didn’t seem quite timely, given the current political climate. In today’s context, I think it’s even more important as a study in empathy, sympathy and for its unwavering conviction that people who do bad things are not always bad people but desperate ones and that people will defend their families no matter what the risk. This power shouldn’t be underestimated.

Last movie I watched: I have no idea. It might have been Home. It might not have been.

Last TV episode I watched: Smallville. I missed the season finale for this season (8 I think). I have to say, it’s very edge of your seat excitementy.

 

 

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Time travel doesn’t make any sense. But it’s fun. So fun.

The Named by Marianne Curley

The copy of this book that I read is a prime example of why you should always put a blurb at the back cover, because I read the prologue and was terrified, thinking I’d accidentally picked up a horror novel, despite it coming to me very highly recommended.

But no, the first chapter was a description of the brutal murder of a little girl, witnessed only by her four year old brother and then after that it totally shifted into a much less frightening story. It’s the story of two teenagers, Ethan and Isabelle, and the story is told through alternating first person perspectives. After the death of his big sister Ethan was found by the Guardians of Time, a secret, magical order that sends agents back in time to ensure that history unfolds the way it’s meant to, as an evil Order lead by the Goddess of Chaos tries to gain power by interfering with the past. Now a teenager, he is given his next mission: to train a new member of the Guard. Isabelle is Ethan’s former best friend’s younger sister, and has had a crush on Ethan since she was a little girl. Together they end up with the future resting on their shoulders, as they begin to understand the Prophecy that they are each a part of.

While this book wasn’t the most subtle in it’s writing style or narrative, it was a really fun, face paced story. It’s one of those books that I’m surprised hasn’t done better then it seems to have. It has most of the classic and key elements on children’s novels including but not limited to: tragic past, mysterious love-ish interest, soul mates, cool superpowers, secret back story, shocking reveals about family members, sword fights, training montage, epic solo quests, somewhat questionable and suitably removed authority figures and a really, really intense final battle. Really, the only thing that real sets it apart from similar stories is the writing style and a general lack of humour. It’s a bit of a shame because the time travel is really interesting.

Just an observation but there is no way for fiction to make sense if there’s time travel in it. Writing time travel is demanding complete suspension of disbelief and trust in the illogical without question. Reading it is the biggest leap of faith. Presumably that’s why we all love it so much. Other than physicists who get hung up on the details of how it makes no sense.

In this book we see Ethan struggling with his nonfunctional parents. His father has withdrawn since the death of his child and his mother struggles with clinical depression. Isabelle’s drunk and abusive father left her when she was four and she’s still struggling with that. Rochelle’s father beat her mother to death. While that’s maybe a little much for one novel, I think it’s a pretty good thing to talk about consequences of abusive, absent or unwell parents again to give kids who have these experiences. Not only is it important to see yourself reflected in this stories, but these characters are heroes, so much more than the sum of their parents’ struggles and that’s really what matters about them.

There’s two more in this set, I’m looking forward to getting to them soon, and would totally encourage anyone interested to pick these books up and see what you think!

Last movie I watched:

Still Georgia’s Rules. Speaking of shitty parents and child abuse….

Last TV episode I watched:

Once Upon a Time. Oh god Henry!!! Actually, there’s another one with difficult parents.