Noah Keller has a pretty normal life, until one wild afternoon when his parents pick him up from school and head straight for the airport, telling him on the ride that his name isn’t really Noah and he didn’t really just turn eleven in March. And he can’t even ask them why — not because of his Astonishing Stutter, but because asking questions is against the newly instated rules. (Rule Number Two: Don’t talk about serious things indoors, because Rule Number One: They will always be listening). As Noah—now “Jonah Brown”—and his parents head behind the Iron Curtain into East Berlin, the rules and secrets begin to pile up so quickly that he can hardly keep track of the questions bubbling up inside him: Who, exactly, is listening — and why? When did his mother become fluent in so many languages? And what really happened to the parents of his only friend, Cloud-Claudia, the lonely girl who lives downstairs? In an intricately plotted novel full of espionage and intrigue, friendship and family, Anne Nesbet cracks history wide open and gets right to the heart of what it feels like to be an outsider in a world that’s impossible to understand.
Nesbet's (The Wrinkled Crown) author's note ("Some books live on the history shelves, and other books are fiction but Cloud & Wallfish has deep roots in both") captures the essence of this intricately detailed story of an American boy forced to move to East Berlin in 1989. Eleven-year-old Noah Keller is shocked when his family abruptly relocates to communist-controlled Germany and even more surprised when his parents change his name and birthday. Before entering the city, his parents lay out important rules, including "Don't ever talk about serious things indoors" and "Don't call attention to yourself." Noah's self-described "Astonishing Stutter" isolates him until he meets his adventurous neighbor, Claudia. With her help, Noah unravels why his parents are acting strangely and what happened to Claudia's dead parents. Through Noah's innocent but perceptive eyes, readers receive a first-hand look at this secretive and highly controlled world. Post-chapter "Secret Files" provide fascinating historical context, but the story's heart lies in the friendship between Claudia and Noah, and in the lengths loved ones will go to in order to break down even the most formidable walls. Ages 10 14.