Review of Berliners

by Vesper Stamper; illus. by the author
Middle School, High School    Knopf    320 pp.    g
10/22    978-0-593-42836-8    $21.99
Library ed.  978-0-593-42837-5    $24.99
e-book ed.  978-0-593-42838-2    $10.99

An engrossing look at the emerging new world order after World War II, told through the experiences of one fractured German family living in 1961 Berlin. Stamper begins with a flashback to 1945, with teenage couple Rudolf and Ilse, numb from the soul-crushing brutality of war, learning they are expecting twins. Anxious about their future in the newly partitioned country, they settle in the Soviet sector and scramble to support their family. Their fraternal twin boys grow up in the fledgling Soviet-controlled German Democratic Republic, which touts itself as pro-worker and anti-fascist. Rudi is dutiful and well behaved, with the inquisitive eye of a photographer and a tendency to brood; Peter is the golden boy—smart, talented, a committed optimist—who longs to be an actor. Things come to a head in the summer of 1961 when their parents suddenly split up and the ­fifteen-year-olds find themselves living in different sectors and reassessing everything they’ve been taught to believe. The overnight erection of a wall around the entire Western part of the city halts the ability of citizens to move freely throughout the area. Stamper (What the Night Sings, rev. 5/18) explains the complex geopolitical and ideological landscapes in a teen-friendly manner and helps readers gain perspective via the boys’ alternating chapters as they come of age and gain individual agency. Vivid descriptions bring the city to life and are enhanced by the author’s haunting, multilayered grayscale paintings. There are powerful messages here about postwar trauma and the generational consequences of burying the past. An excellent, nuanced piece of historical fiction.

From the November/December 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Luann Toth
Luann Toth

Luann Toth is a former reviews editor at School Library Journal. She holds an MLIS from the University of Pittsburgh.

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