The story of a young girl from Cold War East Berlin forced to spy for the secret police... but who is determined to escape to freedom.
Twelve-year-old Sophie has spent her entire life behind the Berlin Wall, guarded by land mines, towers, and attack dogs. A science lover, Sophie dreams of becoming an inventor... even though that's not likely on her side of the Wall, where the Stasi, the secret police, are always watching.
Though she tries to avoid their notice, when her beloved neighbor is arrested, Sophie is called to her principal's office. There, a young Stasi officer asks Sophie if she'll spy on her neighbor as an informant once she is released. Sophie doesn't want to agree, but in reality has no choice: The Stasi threaten that her mother, who has a disability from post-polio syndrome, could be taken to an institution if Sophie does not comply.
Sophie is backed into a corner, until she learns secrets about her family on the other side of the Wall. This could be what she needs to attempt an escape with her mother to freedom -- if she can invent her way out.
Jenni L. Walsh spends her days knee deep in words in Philadelphia’s suburbia. Beyond words, Jenni is a mama (of a soulful eight-year-old, a dinosaur-loving six-year-old, and three needy furbabies), a wife, a Philly and 'Nova sports fan.
But where did it all begin? Jenni spent her early years dabbling in various forms of writing and with her nose in a book. Her writing chops first began to develop through one-page stories. Never fail, the storyline followed the same progression: girl meets boy, girl marries boy, girl and boy have baby. That's it.
Now Jenni has moved on to stories with a bit more depth and, for the mamas, Side by Side is a historical women's fiction story of America’s most infamous crime spree of Bonnie and Clyde told in the raw and honest voice of the woman who lived it, Bonnie Parker. In Becoming Bonnie, a prequel set in the Roaring Twenties, a picture of Bonnie's earlier life, before and while she meets Clyde, is brought to life. Jenni's third historical women's fiction book A Betting Woman takes us to the California gold rush, featuring a little known woman from history, Eleanor Dumont, but who is largely remembered by the moniker Madame Moustache. In The Call of the Wrens, Jenni introduces readers to the Women's Royal Naval Service (the Wrens), who carried wartime secrets on their shoulders as motorcycle dispatch riders during both world wars. Jenni's next historical novel will release in November 2023.
For the kiddos, Jenni's debut middle grade books, She Dared, features true stories from women who, at a young age, accomplished daring feats of perseverance and bravery. She is also the author of I Am Defiance, inspired by a real-life resistance group, known as the White Rose. Jenni has contributed Hettie and the London Blitz: A World War II Survival Story to the Girl's Survive series. Revolutionary War hero Sybil Ludington, who is often known as the "female Paul Revere," is brought to life in By the Light of Fireflies, Jenni's first historical novel with a touch of magical realism. Jenni's newest historical novel for young readers, Over and Out, is a thrilling and fast-paced espionage and escape story that is inspired by real stories of life in East Berlin during the Cold War.
Learn more about Jenni and her books at jennilwalsh.com and @jennilwalsh on social media.
Sophie was born on the same day that the Berlin Wall went up-- August 13, 1961. Living in East Berlin with her single mother (who doesn't talk about her father) is all she has ever known. Her mother, who had polio as a child and uses a wheelchair after her conditioned worsened when Sophie was small, has a job in a research lab where she is able to sit down, and their apartment has an elevator she can use most of the time. (Although there is also a paternoster, which looks terrifying, especially with a wheelchair!) Sophie knows that because her mother has a more academic job, she herself will probably have to work in a factory, so the family isn't too "bourgeoisie". She and her friend Katrina are very interested in science and invention, and spend a lot of time scouring the trash for recyclables but also things they can use to create devices. This is a little unusual for 1974, but after the girls find some books hidden in the floorboards that discuss women inventors, they are even firmer in their resolve to continue to study math and science as long as they can. When Sophie's neighbor and babysitter, Monika, is assigned a job in a pharmacy instead of as a teacher, she makes her unhappiness known, which brings her to the attention of the communist party. Herr Becker approaches Sophie and gives her the "opportunity" to help out by spying on her friend. Sophie, of course, doesn't want to do this, but Herr Becker threatens to have her mother fired from her job, which would mean that she would be placed in a nursing home because of her disability. When Sophie and Katrina see a group of students from West Berlin on a tour in their city, they see a girl who looks almost exactly like Sophie. When asked, her mother admits that they have family in the West, and the girl she saw is her cousin Ava. This is the final straw that compels the girls to make actual plans to escape to the West. They had thought about it, but the journey is treacherous, and they didn't know how they would survive as refugees. Knowing there is family on the other side, they try to figure out ways to get across, and come up with a dangerous idea that involves engineering, a zip line, and archery. They want to take their families as well, so make the plans without telling them, to maintain as much safety as they can. In the meantime, Herr Becker is unhappy that Sophie isn't spying as much as he would like, and he also has suspicions about her activity. Will she and Katrina be able to get their families to a new life in the West? Strengths: This is a particularly interesting point in time to set a book in East Berlin. The wall is a number of years from coming down, but has been up for Sophie's entire lifetime, and her mother was involved with Sophie Scholl's White Rose movement during WWII. The mother's reasons for being in East Berlin are solid, and rather heartbreaking. Sophie and Katrina are great friends, although they have their moments, and I loved that they had an interest in science and technology. One of my favorite parts was Katrina using a boy she liked to teach them how to shoot a bow and arrow! Taking ten people down a zip line and over the border seemed like a bit of a stretch, but an author's note describes other similar daring escapes that were successful. Weaknesses: I could have used a few more details about daily life under the Soviets, although there are a few mentions of waiting in lines in stores and descriptions of clothing. What I really think: There are not as many books about the Berlin Wall as I would have thought. Degens Freya on the Wall (1997), Kephart's Going Over (2014), Nielsen's A Night Divided (2015), and Nesbet's Cloud and Wallfish (2016) and the only ones I could find. This one was particularly interesting, if a bit unbelievable at times. Since this author's I Am Defiance does well, I'm definitely purchasing. Of course, the fact that Sophie is only four years older than I am gave me pause!
Thank you to the author for my gifted copy of Over and Out in exchange for an honest review.
As a middle grade language arts teacher, I am always looking for books to share with my students that feature strong characters, exciting plots, and relatable themes. This mg historical fiction book fit the bill perfectly.
Set in Communist East Berlin, protagonist Sophie works against overwhelming odds to try and escape. I loved the way the story incorporated the power of friendship and scientific thinking into the plot. The chapters are short and well paced, with lots of complicating factors for Sophie to overcome.
The suspense builds to a truly nail-biting climax. My jaw dropped at one point - which rarely if ever happens while reading. The author’s note made me teary eyed, too.
This is such a special story and I’m so excited to be able to add it to my classroom library.
Read If: you enjoy historical fiction (a la Jennifer Nielsen or Ruta Sepetys).
Sophie and her friend Katarina like to dream up crazy ways they could get out of East Germany for fun. They haven't gotten really serious about it because they don't have anywhere to go if they should get out, and it doesn't seem a pressing need. But when Sophie is forced to become an informant on her long time babysitter (now older friend) when she gets a job that she grumbles about (a fate Sophie dreads) and the Stasi use her disabled mom's job as leverage, Sophie starts to think more seriously about how they could really get over the wall. When Sophie and Katarina run into a girl visiting from the West one day who looks eerily similar to Sophie, they learn there might be some real hope of having a place to go. That is IF they can figure out a way out.
This is a companion book to I am Defiance. Sophie's mom is the older sister in that book. It is helpful to have read I am Defiance to fully understand all the background, but it probably isn't necessary. This was a chess game of Sophie and her family and friends versus the Stasi. Being middle grade, the tension is kept way lower than it could've been if written for YA or adults. I did like it better than the previous book in the series and thought it was fairly well done. Hand this to middle grade readers looking for a historical spy story.
Notes on content: No language issues. No sexual content. Past failed crossing attempts mentioned but not described. Some shots fired .
This should get the middle reader's blood pumping. Twelve year old Sophie is being raised by her mom on the east side of the Berlin wall and all she thinks about is getting over the wall and out of East Berlin. She and her best friend Katarina concoct all kinds of crazy escape schemes. In the meantime, Sophie is asked/required to spy on her beloved neighbor and she discovers a secret cache of stuff under her bed. Secrets are revealed and risky escapes are planned. Will Sophie's group make it out?
This is a companion novel to Jenni Walsh's I Am Defiance: A Novel of WWII. Sophie is the daughter of Angelika from the previous novel set during World War II. They are now living in east Berlin, locked out of west Berlin by the Berlin Wall. Sophie and her best friend Katarina are always plotting ways they could get across the barrier, but since they have no family on the west side, it's all just talk. That is until Sophie sees a girl on a field trip from the west side who looks just like her. When she questions her mother, she learns about her aunt Brigitte and cousins. Brigitte was the main character in I Am Defiance: A Novel of WWII.
Then Sophie is tapped by the Shasi to spy on her former babysitter who is not happy about her forced job assignment at a pharmacy. If Sophie refuses, her mother, a polio survivor, will be removed from her job and sent to a nursing home. Sophie is stuck. But it all leads to the discovery of the perfect place to launch her escape plan across the dead zone into west Berlin.
This is a great historical thriller. Not being allowed to travel freely is one thing, but living under the constant threat of punishment for not toeing the line and essentially being forced to spy on people you care about is hard to believe from our western vantage point. I wish there had been a bit more description of how difficult every day life was under communism compared to democracy. The motive for wanting to get out of east Berlin wasn't thoroughly fleshed out. Kids who like books on WWII and/or the Cold War will definitely want to read this one.
Over and Out follows a Science loving girl growing up in East Berlin trapped by the Berlin Wall and forced to follow the government’s strict enforcements. After she is blackmailed into spying on a good friend and she learns she has family in West Berlin she starts forming a plan to escape. The story is inspired by actual events.
Reading about this extremely tense situation where you always have to be careful about what you say, and where so many decisions like which profession to pursue are totally out of your hands, makes me grateful for my ability to have so many choices. This book is a real page turner and it captures the precarious nature of the time while staying appropriate and understandable for the middle grade age level. I will be passing it on to my 8 year old to read. I think it is perfect for fans of Jennifer Nielsen’s historical fiction novels.
This is my very first book I’ve read by author Jenni L. Walsh. It was sent as an ARC.
The story centers around an East Germany teenager named Sophie during the Cold War.
Sophie is an inventor who wants to make it to the West to be reunited with her family and throughout the story she gets tangled up in some bad situations.
For me , this story was so good. It had a great pace and interesting characters. I do teach about East Berlin and so this book will be a really good read aloud for my students. Just enough suspense and history to make it a book that will help my students better understand what life was like during this time. A sub at our school grew up in East Berlin and he often shares what life was like for him.
I definitely recommend this book when it comes out on March 1, 2022
I enjoyed Jennifer Nielsen’s book A Night Divided, so I was excited to see this middle grade book Over and Out had the same premise: life in East Germany during the time the wall was up. • Sophie is determined to escape to the West, but she and her friend Katarina can’t figure out how to do it. The ideas they eventually come up with are based off of true events! I found this book suspenseful and thought provoking, so I know a kid would love it too. • I also think this story would stir gratitude and historical perspective in a child. I’m interested to also read I Am Defiance from Jenni L. Walsh.
Another page-turning gem from Jenni L. Walsh! What I continue to love from Walsh's stories is how she so vividly brings to life the determination, spirit, and ingenuity of children cast against the trials of history. Sophie's story is equally riveting and informative throughout. It reads like a modern day cat and mouse thriller while also giving incredibly insights into the difficulties of Soviet controlled East Berlin. Over and Out reads perfectly as a standalone book, but even more beautifully as a sequel to I Am Defiance. It is like Ken Follett continuity for middle-grade. I am excited for more to come from Jenni!
What a treat to have some of the same characters from the author's I AM DEFIANCE make an appearance in this book with the setting of the Berlin Wall. I didn't realize people from West Berlin had field trips to East Berlin and that west families could come over the wall and visit family members in the east.
Sophie certainly took matters into her own hands, using her ingenuity and knowledge of science to help her family escape East Berlin.
This is a book that will hook readers who love history, strong girls, and science. I'll be looking for the next historical adventures from Jenni L. Walsh.
Sophie dreams of becoming a scientist and is always inventing things with her best friend Katarina. Unfortunately Sophie lives behind the Berlin Wall in East Germany and the state will determine her career. When her neighbor Monika is assigned to work in a pharmacy instead of her choice of teaching, she draws the attention of the secret police force – the Stasi. Sophie is called to the principal’s office the next day and forced to spy on Monika or risk her polio-disabled mother being sent to prison. When Sophie and Katarina see Sophie’s doppelganger visiting from the West and learn that she was Sophie’s cousin, they begin planning their daring escape to the West.
I loved this middle grade book. Historical fiction is a favorite genre and this one with a strong female character did not disappoint. The story takes place in East Germany during the Cold War when children were often used as spies. The main character, Sophie gets caught up having to spy on friends and family. This book is full of suspense and difficult to put down. You will just want to keep reading to see what happens next. Highly recommend.
This is a Middle Grade historical fiction novel that documents life in East Berlin for a school girl and her attempt to escape over the Berlin Wall to West Germany. This book had the right mix of action and history but written in an age appropriate way for the intended audience. I really enjoyed this book and it would a great family read. 4/5
This was an engaging read that had plenty of on-the-edge-of-my-seat reading time as well as characters to love (and fear). I cheered for Sophie the entire time as she makes an excellent POV middle grade voice. The friendships and family bonds and loyalty were one of my favorite parts of this novel. The author's notes at the edge tied the action to actual historical events.
I’m so excited to have another book about East and West Berlin to recommend to readers. There are so few. And I’m grateful this one is excellent. I think the drama, trauma and suspense in the book makes it accessible to even the younger reader. An interesting note, I was reading a book about Sophie Blanchard when I started this book. That was a unique and fortuitous coincidence.