Cover Image: The Boy Behind The Wall

The Boy Behind The Wall

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August 2021: I'm sitting beside the pool on a long-awaited summer holiday and I cannot lie, it's bliss. I feel so fortunate to finally be away from gloomy, cold England where summer 2021 never seemed to arrive. I've decided that historical fiction is my pick of holiday genre for the week and The Boy Behind the Wall, debut YA novel by Maximillian Jones, is my first book.

Releasing on Welbeck Kids on 14 October 2021 and set in the 1960s, The Boy Behind the Wall is about two boys, Harry and Jakob, living on the West and East sides of the Berlin Wall respectively. The boys become penpals after Harry sends a helium balloon over the wall with two notes attached. The balloon is shot down, of course, but the notes find their way into Jakob's hands.

So begins a tale of friendship, mystery and sabotage set during the fraught and dark times of divided Berlin. The action is non-stop from the very first page and this book is near impossible to put down.

Perhaps the best thing about The Boy Behind the Wall is the characters that Jakob and Harry meet along the way and the stories they have to tell. There is the comic store owner who tells Harry about how Jews were treated during the war and the cafe owner who tells Jakob about his time in the resistance.  Throughout the novel is the notion that a society on the losing end of a world war was further brutalised by an authoritarian regime.

I remember watching with incredulity as the Berlin Wall came down. Now The Boy Behind the Wall can give YA readers a glimpse of what it was like to live during that time and how it felt for a thousands of people whose families were torn apart when the wall went up.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Boy Behind the Wall and give it a superb five out of five stars. I recommend to fans of historical YA as well as those who love a good spy thriller.
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Harry is the son of an American diplomat, living with his parents in West Berlin. Jakob lives in East Berlin. He was adopted by a Stasi officer and his wife, following an unsuccessful attempt to escape with his family to the west after the construction of the Berlin Wall.

Following a science lesson at school, Harry finds himself in possession of a helium balloon and on impulse, he attaches a message and sends it over the wall. Thus a pen friendship develops between the two boys, as they exchange secret messages and plan a daring escape from East Germany.

This is the first children’s book I’ve read set in this context and it provided a fascinating insight into life in East and West Berlin during the Cold War. The dual narrative works effectively. A great book about espionage in an unusual historical setting.

I received a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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A compelling and moving story, aimed at young adults, but also an enjoyable read for older people too. It covers the story of two young boys, divided by the Wall, and their differing lives in East and West.. A story of survival, courage and the bond of friendship, it gives a valuable insight into a part of our recent history that should be remembered. Highly recommended.
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Jacob and Harry strive for something that is just out of their grasp. They have each have different demons that are creating obstacles to their happiness, and time is running out as the Stasi are on their trail. 

The Wall is the main barrier to overcome but the manipulations by Jacob & Harry’s guardians make the mental challenges just as hard.   I loved that there was light and shade in both boys lives and that they had to depend on the newly created bond between them to survive when they didn’t know if that trust was valid.   It gives a flavour of the distrust & fear that would’ve been in the air of the time period to younger readers without being too heavy-handed.  I definitely feel that the balance was right for the subject matter, and it may encourage further study.  I was drawn to this story by the vibrant cover and the intriguing description, as this is such a fascinating period of history that is often overlooked in fiction.  I certainly don’t remember seeing another children’s book highlighting this era of Germany’s past.
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The Boy Behind the Wall chronicles the life of two teenage boys. Jakob and Harry, and compares the lives they lead in East and West Berlin. A chance encounter with a helium balloon brings the boys together and united they try to outsmart the Stasi. Will either boy live to tell the tale?

I found the dual narrative used in this story a really effective way to compare, and to link, the life of the two main characters - teenage boys living in East and West Berlin. The story was entirely unpredictable and I really enjoyed learning more about the German divide. I thought the book captured a unique hangover from the war, which is rarely discussed in children’s literature. Not only was it a thrilling and emotional story, I also learned a lot whilst reading it. Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC.
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This MG tells the story of two boys, Harry, an American thirteen-year-old who just moved to West Berlin, and Jacob, a fourteen-year-old living with his adoptive parents in East Berlin after his father was sent to prison and died eventually, and his mom and sister fled to the west. When Jacob finds a balloon Harry let up from the west, the boys start a correspondence.

I could give four stars and a raving review because I really liked the premise, Jacob and Harry, and their love for music. I could give four stars because the author didn’t focus on how bad the east was but wrote a nuanced story. I could give four stars because I was invested in the story. But as you already found out, I didn’t.

To be honest, I didn’t like the writing very much. The past tense felt like someone from the present was telling a story of what happened in the past. And therein lies the second part of the problem. The story was way too telling for my liking. For example: ‘I could feel my heart rate rising’. Why not ‘My heart rate rose’?Or even more active, using present tense throughout the story: ‘My heart rate rises’. Bam! As a reader, we immediately feel that something is happening. We don’t need to read the word feel, we feel it ourselves. . And why did his heart rate rise? Show us the action! Now it’s an explanation, which means telling. Sadly, the phrase I could feel has been used a lot ... (just as I knew and I realised).

Furthermore, I missed how Jacob felt about his mom, his doubts, his questions like any fourteen-year-old would have. Why didn’t his mom take him when she fled? Had she even fled? What happened back then? Did she fight for him without his knowledge? Would she ever have tried to get him to the west? Would she still welcome him with her arms open when they’d meet? Or would she have a new family and almost forgotten him?

For now, I think the story is mediocre. However, with the proper writing, it could be an incredible story for 10-14 year-olds. Therefore, may I suggest another editing round? Make the story more showing (not only the ‘I could feel’ parts), change the writing to present tense (my personal preference in MG and YA when written in first person), and if you take up my suggestion, please let Jacob question his mom a little more!
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