This book sat in my bag for quite a while, while I studiously ignored it.
I wasn’t sure what to make of the cover. The blurb on the inside cover didn’t jump up and grab me. It was East Germany…so I felt vaguely like I should have an interest but…meh.
Until I started reading it.
I really enjoyed this book.
Who are we really? What do we really know about ourselves, or each other? Noah/Jonah isn’t so sure anymore. His family up and moves from Virginia to East Germany without much in the way of explanation. That would be unusual enough. But Noah’s mother burns the only childhood photo he’s ever seen of her, and throws out his practically new backpack, the one with his name in sharpie across the top.
Noah may not be thinking spies…but I am.
When they arrive in East Germany, they are predictably isolated. Noah is unable to attend school with other children and is mostly alone. Until he meets Cloud-Claudia. But the east is a tricky place, where your apartment is bugged and officials can pop out at any moment and demand to see your papers. You can’t just say what you’re thinking. And you can’t always be who you are.
The story beautifully explores friendships that grow even in the least hospitable of circumstances. It pokes at issues of identity and belonging.
I grew up thinking that I had (somehow) outlived history, until the Berlin wall fell (and a few other minor historical footnotes). This story plays with the idea of being just at the edge of history as it happens. There’s something exciting about that.
Cloud and Wallfish reminded me of A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen. Nielsen’s story was darker, because the characters became isolated even from close friends under the scrutiny and suspicion of the East German state. Nielsen’s book was death defying and full of physical danger. The two would make the beginnings of a nice text set about how society influences individuals or how individuals can remain true to themselves in spite of societal challenges.
I don’t think this book will sit untouched in your bags.