November 11, 2010
Wallflower is four hours in the life of Molly Lenzfeld, sixteen-year-old New Yorker in Berlin. It's Thanksgiving Day 1989, two weeks after the fall of the Wall. Molly, the daughter of a German-Jewish mother who fled the Nazis in 1938, is off to her mother's birth house in East Berlin. On the subway trip from West to East wallflower Molly meets East German wildflower Mick Maier, nineteen. It's love at first sight, and for both, a journey into an unknown land, into the labyrinth of Berlin's underground world, a terrain in which they discover each other, the absurdities of the divided city, and, of course, the wonder of love.
Wallflower was sent to me by Dr. Eva Schweitzer of Berlinica Publishing for review. My copy says it is an uncorrected proof though this book is already released for purchase. I don't know if you can tell what's on the cover but it is what I presume is the Berlin Wall before it was taken down from the Western view. It's spray painted and graffitied and actually looks like a work of art. I'm sure it never felt like that. It's not pretty when you remember it's purpose.
Wallflower is a YA novel set in 1989 Berlin, two weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The main character, Molly is the narrator and describes herself as a giantess at six feet tall with size 12 shoes, a Jewish girl who is hopelessly lost. Her mother died of cancer five years earlier, quite suddenly and she is still struggling with this loss. Her boyfriend walked out on her during the middle of a class field trip to make out with another girl. And her father took her from New York City to Berlin for a year where she doesn't fit in any better than she did at home. She is a "wallflower in a crack."
Molly is odd and doesn't really do a lot to overcome that image. She can't help her height or shoe size, but the fact that she sleeps through the historical taking down of the Berlin wall is strange. She prefers to spend her time cooking, she doesn't like change such as moving from New York City to Berlin and she'd prefer to count the number of pharmacies on the street corners and ponder the mental health of the Germans. And oh yeah, she gets lost a lot! She's in a perpetual state of being lost. That's why, on Thanksgiving Day, we are traveling with her through the labryinthian maze of trains and subways to her destination in East Germany where she plans to visit, must visit before going home two days hence. She won't even stay for Christmas. (They are a mixed family.)
But during her journey, and it is one as the destination is her mother's birthplace, she meets a boy. And suddenly in many ways she is no longer lost, though it takes her time to sort that out, to trust that feeling. She's not good with feelings either. And the boy, Mick, "as in Jagger", from East Germany, also finds his way not understanding how lost he really was.
The entire story takes place over four hours. There are a whole cast of supporting characters adding a lot to the story so that it is a full and complex story. From one of Molly's frenemies showing up on the train to ill mannered waiters and confessions and misunderstandings, there is a lot that goes on in those four hours. The question is, is Molly hopelessly lost or does meeting Mick change everything?
Though the novel is set in 1989, I think YA readers will appreciate the historical significance of the time. The train transfers and names of the plazas and stations and the rules in East Germany would be incredibly daunting to me without a guide. As it was, I got hopelessly lost in the in the strasses and platzs and finally just let go of trying to pronounce everything and remember where they were and I concentrared on the story. But I found that the same platzs and strasses were repeated enough that I began to get my bearings. So I wasn't so lost after all, but I'm glad I didn't have to manuever through the stations anyway.
This is a short story but because of the German words and wanting to understand what was going on it took two nights to read- still just a few hours. I recommend it to anyone that enjoys realistic fiction. You also get a look into history and what East Germany was like those first weeks after The Wall fell. And there is a light, sweet romance.
Heather in Sandwich