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Review: ‘The Other Side of the Wall’

Back in December, when I ran my Book Fair, I was surprised this unobtrusive paperback by Jennifer A. Nielsen become an instant best seller. You see, A Night Divided, had the best possible sales rep—an excited and enthusiastic reader. One of the students had already read the book, and he practically sold a copy to every student in his class! When I finally sat to read (or rather listen to) the book, not only did I also enjoy the title, but immediately thought of The Other Side of the Wall, which was sitting on my “to be reviewed” pile. Though they are set approximately 20+ years apart, the books both take place in a divided Germany, divided by a wall that only came down in 1989.

otherside of the wallThe Other Side of the Wall
By Simon Schwartz.
Graphic Universe. 2015. ISBN 978-1-4677-6028-7 pbk, $9.99. 112pp.
Grades 7 and up

In A Night Divided, Gerta and her brother risk everything to tunnel under the Berlin Wall to reunite their divided family. In The Other Side of the Wall, Simon Schwartz gives a glimpse of what people gave up in order to apply for an exit visa to the West.

Simon Schwartz mostly knows the freedom of West Berlin. His parents immigrated to the West when he was about a year or so old. But this story chronicles what it was like for people who applied to leave the country: How you lost your job, how the Stasi, the secret police, harassed you, and how you waited and waited until you were allowed to leave.

Schwartz also chronicles the relationship between his parents and grandparents, how his mother’s parents were open and supportive but his father’s parents were ardent Communists and thought it was wrong to leave the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik— or the German Democratic Republic—which governed East Berlin).

As he tells all the elements of the story and goes back and forth in time, the storytelling shifts become jarring. And the conclusion of the book almost seems abrupt, as if there’s more to tell. (Like, what was it like when the wall finally came down?) Yet the story gives a glimpse to a part of history that’s well known but is often skimmed over in school curriculums. (I suspect this is in part because time runs out. There is a whole lot of history to cover.)

The black and white illustration style lends itself to the stark story and evoke the dark days of Communism. Characters are drawn with exaggerated features, especially the eyes, which gives the entire story an exotic sort of feel.

While this book certainly has found an audience, it can be used in the classroom as students learn about the era of Communism. And classroom teachers should consider pairing this read with A Night Divided. It would make for wonderful conversation.

This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © Lerner Books.

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Esther Keller About Esther Keller

Esther Keller is the librarian at JHS 278, Marine Park in Brooklyn, NY. There she started the library's first graphic novel collection and strongly advocated for using comics in the classroom. Her collection is also the model for all middle school libraries in NYC. She started her career at the Brooklyn Public Library, and later jumped ship to the school system so she could have summer vacation and a job that would align with a growing family's schedule. On the side, she is a mother of 4 and regularly reviews for SLJ and School Library Connection (formerly LMC). In her past life, she served on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee where she solidified her love and dedication to comics.

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