A Night Divided

Book review by
Tracy Moore, Common Sense Media
A Night Divided Book Poster Image
Popular with kids
Sharp-eyed Cold War stunner has high intrigue, family drama.

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 15 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about bravery; courage; perseverance in the face of great odds; the importance of being free; the importance of challenging unjust laws while still obeying just ones; the value of being open-minded.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Gerta is a headstrong, intelligent, brave 12-year-old who risks her future and her life to defend her family and attempt escape. She's a serious thinker who carefully weighs the consequences of her choices and frequently evaluates whether the lies she has told or the times she's stolen things can be justified for a greater good. She makes mistakes but cares a great deal about her community, her friendships, and the future of her city and country. Fritz is a loyal brother who questions blind compliance, the meaning of freedom, and the value in political risk, even if lives are lost. Mother is a hardworking, stable, and moral presence, and she's willing to change her views. Father risks his livelihood and his family's for a greater political good, the merits of which are debated throughout the novel.


A man is shot, described as bleeding, and dies. A young man is shot in the back, dies. A dead body is carried out on a gurney. A man is shot, and wounds are described as ripping through the gut, bleeding; a woman is said to have leapt to her death, missing a mattress below; a man is roughed up and said to be bleeding from the head; girl slapped across the face; guns, intimidation throughout.


Very brief discussions of a high school-age boy liking a girl, asking her to run away with him.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Brief reference to people drowning their troubles in Pilsner beer.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Night Divided by Jenniefer A. Nielsen (the Ascendance trilogy) is a stunning, provocative, and suspenseful book about a 12-year-old girl who helps plot her family's escape from 1960s East Berlin, just after the Berlin Wall has been erected. It involves a family separated, political unrest, a handful of deaths with some graphic descriptions, thorny questions about right and wrong, and the challenging of unjust laws during periods of political upheaval. Using historical facts to frame the narrative, it provides a deeply humanizing portrait of one the Cold War's cruelest divisions. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 9, 13, and 15-year-old Written byCatherine R. February 13, 2018

Food for thought

I read this book with my daughters (age 9 and 15) - it is tense and very exciting. Gerta is a great character and the author is masterful at painting a picture... Continue reading
Parent of a 8 and 10-year-old Written byGayl A. December 12, 2016

Excellent historical fiction

My 9 year old read the book and then recommended I read it, as well. It is really a poignant look at the impact of the Cold War on families in Europe, but also... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byMayberry June 15, 2018

A Night Divided

A family in crisis. This book shows kids the down side of war. It lets them know of the Berlin Wall.
Kid, 10 years old April 23, 2018

amazing and touching book

My class read it together and there were some young kids the only part that makes me say 8+ is the shooting and death

What's the story?

Gerta's father and brother Dominique have just left East Berlin amid growing unrest to seek an apartment in the West, when the Berlin Wall is erected over the weekend. Now divided, with increasing suspicions about each family member's activities and neighbors and friends who can no longer be trusted, Greta, her mother, and her other brother Fritz must keep theirs heads down while they plot the best way to reunite their family, all the while debating the very notion of what it means to be truly free.

Is it any good?

This powerful book humanizes historical events by creating a story about people's struggle to live with autonomy and their efforts to live honorably in an unjust system. A NIGHT DIVIDED is fast-paced and simply written, and it moves the complex story along in an engaging way without getting bogged down in the history. Author Jennifer A. Nielsen weaves in the geopolitical factors that led to the creation of the Berlin Wall and shows why people had divided loyalties -- to Germany, Russia, their own city, and even at times their own families.

The result is an incredibly thoughtful, provocative, and very human look at a distant moment in history that will raise interesting questions for readers about what it means to be free and how we define the good life, all with a deeply nuanced understanding of what it means to do the "right" thing in complicated situations where not only political alliances but lives, futures, and happiness all are at stake. But even if you weren't interested in any of that, it still offers a fascinating, suspenseful tale of a thoughtful, courageous 12-year-old girl's determination to escape an oppressive life for something better.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why historical fiction is so popular. What makes you want to read fictional stories set during real-life events?

  • Is it OK that, to do a little right, we have to do a little wrong? Why, or why not?

  • How do some of the families in A Night Divided define "a good life"? Is there such a thing as being "a little bit free"?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love history

Themes & Topics

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