Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet

Young readers will like the spy novel subplot. Many have this book on their Newbery contender lists and I thought the beginning unfolded in a weird and engaging way, but I had issues with the crafting of plot and development of characters. Noah Keller is picked up from school one day only to find his world turned upside down as his parents take him to the airport to live in East Germany for six months while his mom finishes her PhD in studying children with speech impediments. Noah has no warning. The sudden flight is suspicious and mysterious. Noah doesn't know what to think when he arrives behind the Wall in a world lacking freedom and full of fear. He makes friends with a neighbor girl that causes all sorts of problems with authorities.

The book lacked authenticity for me.  I've lived in three different countries and every time I move I struggle with some form of culture shock. While I think children can handle it fairly well compared to adults as they are immersed in school, Noah doesn't even struggle with it. Compare it to the book, "Inside Out and Back Again," where the character moves to the U.S. from Vietnam. In that plot the anger and struggles with communicating in a new country using a second language are much more authentic. Noah also learns the language in isolation too quickly. The author gives him a photographic memory to try and justify his gift with learning languages, but he would have needed to be immersed in the culture in some form to become that fluent and have that high of a vocabulary in only three months. But he isn't in a local school. He's at home waiting for approval from the government to go to school.

Noah has a stuttering problem; however, little depth of understanding to the problem. It is a token disability; not like the character in "Paperboy," by Vince Vawter who works on breathing techniques to try and communicate. Also, how could Noah be understood in German when no one could understood him in English except his parents? Noah becomes friends with an East German girl talking to her in his second language fluently.

I didn't think the author captured life in East Germany in a well-rounded way. As a reader, I felt like an outsider looking through a stereotyped Western window or view of behind the iron curtain. Again, it didn't feel well-rounded or authentic, but more from textbooks. Maybe that was because of the way the author chose to explain facts in popup "Secret Files" boxes. I think it is really hard as an outsider trying to understand another culture and capture the sounds, smells, and  uniqueness of what it is like living as an expat. While the suspense is well-done, this fell short for me.

3 Smileys

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