Title: A Great Escape
Author: Felice Arena
Published by Penguin Books Australia
RRP: $16.99

When Peter refuses to come inside when he is called by his mother, he is left behind as she and his little sister go to the West to visit Peter’s father. Peter stays behind with his Grandparents, which normally would not be a problem, however that night East and West Berlin becomes physically divided. People are not allowed to cross at all, regardless of family or work. The fence is fast becoming the wall and Peter is cut off from his parents and younger sister. He tries frantically to escape in the first few days, but as his attempts become fruitless he decides he needs a real plan. This is when he meets Otto and they begin to plan Peter’s escape. But Peter is torn between helping his Grandparents or escaping to his parents and sister. He is not sure who to trust, who his real friends are or what to do.

Set in Berlin during the Cold War, this is a gripping read for independent readers. Peter is a feisty young man, committed to his friends and family. The hopelessness with which many of the characters are faced is tangible and Peter’s fate is heartfelt. The escape attempts and deaths are realistic but not over the top for the intended audience. Felice Arena has pitched the content perfectly. The characterisation is strong and the setting well written, I could easily visualise where Peter was. The story has action and is paced well, keeping readers interested from the start to the very end.

When I was working in a public library I met a man who escaped from East Germany on his third attempt. He said he had seen the worst and the best of humanity. I thought of this man while reading A Great Escape. Books like this allow our young readers to experience a small snippet of history in a realistic yet safe setting.

I have read, with interest, The Boy and The Spy and Fearless Frederic, both set in the past. I enjoyed both these books and they are the subject of book talks with my classes regularly. I think, though, that A Great Escape is my favourite, although I will be letting my students decide for themselves!

Booktalk

When Peter refuses to come inside when he is called by his mother, he is left behind as she and his little sister go to the West to visit Peter’s father. Peter stays behind with his Grandparents, which normally would not be a problem, however that night East and West Berlin becomes physically divided. People are not allowed to cross at all, regardless of family or work. Peter frantically tries to escape, as many others are. But not all are successful, as you will see in this short scene when Peter decides to try and swim across to the West.

Read from page 32 “Peter kicks off his shoes…” to page 34 “…stumbles to his feet, and runs.”

Teaching notes are available for download here.

Many thanks to Penguin Random House for supplying this book for review.