Book review: Cloud and Wallfish, by Anne Nesbet

Nesbet, Anne. Cloud and Wallfish. Candlewick Press, 2016. $16.99. ISBN 9780763688035. 385 pgs. Ages 10-13. P7Q8

Noah, with his Astonishing Stutter, lives a relatively happy life with his family in Virginia. One day, everything changes, when his parents pick him up from school and whisk everyone off to East Berlin. Noah is now to go by the name Jonah Brown, his birthday is now a different date, and his life is to be regulated with rules like Don’t call attention to yourself, Don’t use our old names, They will always be listening, and Don’t talk about serious things indoors, because… they will always be listening. Noah is very confused- his parents’ explanation that his mom needs to do research to finish her PhD explains some of the situation, but not all of it. Why are they there? Are his parents spies? When he finally makes a friend, Claudia from downstairs, things become even more confusing. Claudia’s parents have been killed in car accident in Hungary, and she is living with her cranky grandmother. This story also makes some sense, but Noah begins to wonder if it’s really true. The grandmother tries to keep the children apart, since Americans are dangerous elements, but they manage to build a friendship based on shared imagination and loneliness. Noah calls the girl Cloud Claudia (from the German pronunciation of the name), and she calls him Wallfish (Jonah makes her think of a whale, which is “Walfisch” in German). Passages of story alternate with “Secret File” sections, which give historical and cultural context. The story comes to an exciting end when Cloud-Claudia and Wallfish are arrested during a demonstration, and Noah and his family are deported.

VERDICT: I loved this story. The complex character of Noah/Jonah is fascinating- he’s a bright and very resourceful, and doesn’t let his severe stutter hold him back. His relationship with his parents is loving and supportive, even during confusing and frightening situations. The blend of adventure, friendship, mystery, history and politics in this unusual setting will keep kids reading.

April 2017 review by Carol Schramm.

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