October 04, 2016
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Slip behind the Iron Curtain into a world of smoke, secrets, and lies in this stunning novel where someone is always listening and nothing is as it seems.
Noah Keller has a pretty normal life, until one wild afternoon when his parents pick him up from school and head straight for the airport, telling him on the ride that his name isn’t really Noah and he didn’t really just turn eleven in March. And he can’t even ask them why — not because of his Astonishing Stutter, but because asking questions is against the newly instated rules. (Rule Number Two: Don’t talk about serious things indoors, because Rule Number One: They will always be listening). As Noah—now "Jonah Brown"—and his parents head behind the Iron Curtain into East Berlin, the rules and secrets begin to pile up so quickly that he can hardly keep track of the questions bubbling up inside him: Who, exactly, is listening — and why? When did his mother become fluent in so many languages? And what really happened to the parents of his only friend, Cloud-Claudia, the lonely girl who lives downstairs? In an intricately plotted novel full of espionage and intrigue, friendship and family, Anne Nesbet cracks history wide open and gets right to the heart of what it feels like to be an outsider in a world that’s impossible to understand.
I don't think I realized how little I knew about the Iron Curtain, East and West Berlin before reading Anne Nesbet's Cloud and Wallfish. I have read a couple of other books set in or around there but I think they focused more on the characters than where or how they lived. I had not, before, gogten such a full look at, in particular, life in East Berlin.
Cloud and Wallfish is a Middle Grade book but one that absolutely should appeal to older readers, as well. Noah is the ideal main character for this story. The perspective that his age gives him - along with the facts he is or is not aware of, what he knows of history and how he sees people and the world around him is perfect for the story. He and his character are a great fit not only for MG readers but those of us who aren't full educated on the time or facts. The understandable naivete on some things that his age gives him really lets readers be introduced to new information while also seeing things in an unexpected but realistic way.
Noah's stutter (his Astonishing Stutter) also makes his character any interesting one for the center of this story. From the social trouble it causes him - both in the US and now in East Berlin - to how, in 1989, it is viewed by those there. It brought out several aspects of East German life I don't think would have otherwise been known.
I really loved Noah and Cloud-Claudia, their relationship, the struggles they faced and how the author used it all to show us life in East Berlin in 1989 while still making it very much about Noah and Cloud. There's a fantastic balance between fiction and nonfiction in Cloud and Wallfish. (The inclusion of the Secret Files at the end of the chapters that give you real, historical insight without needing the characters to be aware of those facts is a great addition both for readers' education and for how we view the characters' lives.)
thank you to the publisher for my review copy, via NetGalley