By L.M. Elliott

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This powerful Cold War novel tells the story of two cousins, one German and the other an American Army brat, as they navigate the political and social turmoil that threatens their friendship and ends in the abrupt rise of the Berlin Wall–which may separate them forever.

Drew is an army brat in West Berlin, where soldiers like his dad hold an outpost of democracy against communist Russia. Drew’s cousin Matthias, an East Berliner, has grown up in the wreckage of Allied war bombing, on streets ruled by the secret police.

From enemy sides of this Cold War standoff, the boys become wary friends, arguing over the space race, politics, even civil rights, but bonding over music. If informants catch Matthias with rock ’n’ roll records or books Drew has given him, he could be sent to a work camp. If Drew gets too close to an East Berliner, others on the army post may question his family’s loyalty. As the political conflict around them grows dire, Drew and Matthias are tested in ways that will change their lives forever.

Set in the tumultuous year leading up to the surprise overnight raising of the Berlin Wall in August 1961, and illustrated with dozens of real-life photographs of the time, Walls brings to vivid life a heroic and tragic episode of the Cold War.





Standing in the doorway, Drew hesitated, his freckles burning crimson like a thousand flares of anxiety. Any minute, his red hair might burst into flames.

Snap out of it, man, he reprimanded himself. You've done this before. Five times already in his fifteen-year life—California, New York, Italy, North Carolina, and Virginia. It wasn't as if he was trying to invade the Soviet Union. All he had to do was walk through this measly door and into a party, introduce himself to a room of strangers, win them over with breezy chitchat and the gutsy bravado and pitch-perfect manners expected of "army brats." All the while knowing that in two years tops, he'd most likely be pulling up stakes and saying goodbye again.

No problem.

"Go on, soldier," his big sister Joyce nudged him. "Remember what Dad always says?"

Keeping their voices low, they recited, "To take a wall, you have to march straight and fast to it. He who hesitates . . ."

". . . is lost," whispered their little sister, Linda.

Drew and Joyce glanced down at the eleven-year-old. She'd barely spoken since they'd crossed the Atlantic Ocean and taken the military duty train through Germany to Berlin. Their family dog, Blarney—Linda's constant companion and protector—was too old for the voyage and had been left behind in the States. She'd been pretty darn shaky ever since.

Joyce kissed the top of Linda's strawberry-blond head. "Full speed ahead, sweetie," she chirped.

But the trio remained frozen.

Their hosts of this welcome party had left the door open for guests, and the swirl of army folk inside hadn't yet noticed Drew and his sisters hovering there. A chance for a quick reconnaissance.

From his family's prior postings, Drew knew this apartment would be the same layout as their new quarters across the stairwell. He assessed the living room. Yup—pretty much the same army-issued furniture arranged in pretty much the same way, minus his mom's piano. In the far corner of the living room, his father and the other noncommissioned officers guffawed over some military-blunt joke. Dressed in off-duty polo shirts and crisp-pressed civilian khakis, the men were ringed in pipe smoke and held tumblers full of straight-up, no-nonsense drinks. Drew caught the smell of lasagna baking in the galley kitchen just off the big room. Bowls of Fritos and onion dip, quartered oranges, celery sticks stuffed with Palmetto Cheese, deviled eggs, green bean casserole, and a stack of Rice Krispies treats were already laid out on the dining room's starched linen tablecloth. Typical potluck welcome-to-post dinner.

Another "little America" in a foreign land.

Except this time, they were living a hundred miles behind the Iron Curtain in a divided city—half free, half communist. Being sent to the Cold War's epicenter—to stand post in a small fort of democracy, outnumbered ten to one, surrounded by Russian-backed East German secret police and Soviet troops—was an assignment that had made Drew's dad whoop with pride. But this sure wasn't a place for his kids to screw up.

As Drew mulled all of this over, Joyce took Linda's hand and whispered, "Here we go."

Squaring his shoulders and sucking in a deep breath, Drew followed and stepped over the threshold.

Time for man-to-man introductions. Drew trooped toward the NCOs encircling his dad. But he stopped when he overheard them discussing Francis Gary Powers—the American U-2 pilot who'd been shot down by the Russians while taking photos of them. Drew knew better than to interrupt serious shoptalk.

"Think he'll hold up under questioning?" one of the men asked.

"He better."

"How much has this increased tensions here in Berlin?" Drew's dad asked.

"A lot."

"Khrushchev sure is making hay of capturing one of our guys. Gotta be a dream come true for that KGB bastard."

"Yeah. He's supposed to address the United Nations this fall. Wouldn't it be tragic if one of those crazy New York cabbies hit him?"

The men laughed.

"Drew!" His dad spotted him and waved him over.

As Drew approached the group, he caught a low wolf whistle coming from down the hall. A-hole, six o'clock. A tall teen Hercules with a fresh buzz cut had just come out of the bathroom and stopped mid-zip, eyeing Joyce.

Lately, more and more idiots like this guy were ogling his sister. With a pixie cut and enormous blue eyes, she was a redheaded lookalike of Leslie Caron in An American in Paris and seemed to make teenage boys' knees knock. Drew bristled.

"Drew, say hello to our host." Drew's dad demanded his attention. He'd deal with the a-hole later. With a made-to-order smile, he greeted Sergeant Jones. "Hello, sir," Drew said, shaking the man's hand. "Andrew McMahon."

"Hear you've got a hell of a pitching arm, son," the sergeant replied.

"Yes, sir." Damn straight, Drew wanted to shout. His high school coach in Virginia had promised he'd start in the lineup this year, even though he was just a sophomore on a state championship team.

"He's a southpaw, too," said Drew's dad.

"Excellent!" Sergeant Jones clapped Drew on the back so hard Drew staggered forward. "We're in need of an ace. Our Little League team just went to the world championships, but the high school–aged players act like chickens in a rainstorm."

Traded from state champions to a dodo roster. Grrrreat. Drew simmered. He just loved the army life.

"Have you met my boy?" Sergeant Jones asked.

"No, sir."

"Bob!" the sergeant roared.

Of course. It was the wolf-whistling jerk. He took his sweet time sauntering over.

"Glad to meet you." Bob friendly punched Drew's chest. Well, sort of friendly. It actually hurt. Drew felt his freckles roasting again.

"Paperweight boxing champ in Youth Club," his father bragged. "Box any, Andrew?"

"No way," Drew's dad answered for him. "Protecting that pitching arm."

"Right. Well, Bob can explain what's happening during the match tonight. One of our own—Eddie Crook—is taking on a guy from Poland. Eddie's an all-round all-American. He even played quarterback for the Berlin Bears when he was stationed here. So the brigade's juiced that the Olympics are being broadcast. There's no way we all could have made it to Rome to see him."

With that, the boys were dismissed. They went straight for the Fritos.

"Don't worry about having to babysit me during the match, by the way," said Drew. "I'll just listen to the commentary."

"Speak German?" Bob asked through a mouthful of corn chips.

"A little. My mom's fluent. Why?"

"Because the match will be broadcast in German. We've got a whopping two channels here, and everything's in German."

"All in German? Even Gunsmoke and Alfred Hitchcock Presents?"

Bob snorted. "Who said we got those? Get used to listening to the radio for stuff like that. AFN is pretty swell, though. They broadcast Fibber McGee, What's My Line?, and Johnny Dollar. Great jazz programs, too. So good, East Berliners tune in all the time—drives the commies in charge over there crazy."

Joyce would be glad to hear about the jazz. But the fact that there was no American TV was annoying news—Drew loved Alfred Hitchcock. And Linda lived by Lassie.

Where was Linda, anyway? Drew did a sweep of the room and found her in a corner, her face covered by an outstretched London Times Sunday magazine—reading, or hiding?

"I'll show you around tomorrow," Bob said. "Everything's a quick walk—school, fields, Outpost movie theater, teen club."

Drew nodded. "Thanks."

"No sweat, Mac."

Drew winced. He'd known Bob for all of two minutes, and the guy had already tagged him with the nickname he most hated. That stereotypical play off his last name made Drew even more self-conscious about his full-body splatter of Irish freckles and carrottop. But Bob was his host. Drew buttoned up about it—for the night, anyway.

Carrying a steaming lasagna, Joyce approached the table. Raised to have perfect army-post party manners, she had made a beeline for the kitchen to help. "Excuse me, boys." Her wide skirt and petticoat swung round her gracefully and brushed against Bob as she set the Pyrex dish down.

The guy purposefully hadn't moved out of her way. Drew felt his hackles go up again, but Joyce spoke before he could say anything.

She extended her hand to shake Bob's. "Hey, I'm Joyce. Thanks so much for having us tonight."

"Hey, I'm bewitched." Bob didn't let go. "I was just giving your brother the lay of the land." He went on as if he'd been in the middle of reciting a list: "Lights out—in the stairwell and the fourth-floor laundry room—at midnight." He winked. "Two best places for necking after that."

Jeez Louise.

Joyce burst out laughing. "Bewitched and a dreamer, too. How nice. I'm grateful for the warning. I'll be sure never to go up there past ten p.m." Blessing Bob with a practiced rejection—a warm, polite smile that still radiated you're a bozo—Joyce pulled her hand away. She headed back to the kitchen for another dish of lasagna, rolling her eyes at Drew as she turned.

Drew grinned. Cool as a cucumber, his big sis. If only he could learn to be like that.

"Dang," Bob muttered. "No offense, Mac, but how is that doll your sister?"

"Yeah, she's definitely in the better end of the family gene pool," said Drew. "Joyce looks more like my mom."

"Where is your mom, anyway? I heard the hens whispering that you might not have one. Or that maybe there was trouble at home, disagreement about coming to Berlin in the first place." Bob nodded to the growing crowd of military wives chatting in the living room.

"What?" First impressions were everything to a military family. Drew rushed to set the record straight. "Mom's coming. She's meeting her cousin for the first time and bringing her and her son to the party. Your mom said it was jake—that it would be nice for them to see the Olympics coverage." Drew's own opinion was that it wasn't okay—not at all. What the heck was his mom thinking, springing German cousins on him and his sisters the same night they had to enter their new world and try to befriend guys like Bob? But he just added, "Your mom invited them."

"Yeah, Mom's like that." Bob nodded. "Bighearted." He was quiet for a moment as the boys watched Mrs. Jones come in with an enormous bowl of ginger ale punch. Petite and fresh-faced, she staggered a bit under the weight and slosh, and then gave a nervous little laugh as she mopped up a small spill. Bob sighed and searched for more conversation. "So . . ."

"So . . ." Drew echoed, and trailed off.

Grabbing another handful of Fritos, Bob said, "Your mom's German?"

"Half. Her mother immigrated to the United States right after World War I. Her sister stayed here, though. That'd be my great-aunt, I guess."

"So . . . you have Nazis in your family."

"What? No! We're no Nazis. My dad fought on D-Day!"

"So did mine," countered Bob. "Omaha Beach. But we don't have any Germans in our family tree."

Drew had been ridiculed before for his obvious Irishness. But no one had ever accused him of being a Nazi! He felt his hands ball into fists and shoved them into his pockets.

The Olympic fight saved him.

"Match is on in ten minutes," Sergeant Jones called out as he flipped on the TV set and adjusted its antenna. "Grab some dinner and get seated! On the double, everyone! We don't want to miss a single one of Eddie's jabs."

Mittelgewicht Ed Crook steht heute als Vertreter der Vereinigten Staaten Polen's Tadeusz Walasek gegenüber . . .

Just as the match was announced and the fighters appeared on the flickering black-and-white TV screen, Drew's mom appeared at the door like an actress ridiculously late for her cue. Mrs. Jones hurried over. "Come in, come in, my dear!" She fluttered her hand in the direction of a female guest, announcing, "Emily McMahon, this is—"

Ding! The fighting began, and the cheers of a room full of men drowned out Mrs. Jones's introduction. "Atta boy, Eddie. Take it to him!"

Getting up from the floor where he'd settled cross-legged with his plate of food, Drew picked his way through the crowd while eyeballing his new extended family. The woman standing next to his mom looked eerily like her—older, grayer, thinner, but with the same unusual teal-colored eyes, pale complexion, and high cheekbones. But while his mom's eyes were merry and inquisitive, her cousin's were wary. The woman's overall somberness was a stark contrast with the pastel-clad perkiness of the army wives waiting to meet her.

Behind her was her son, a gangly male replica of his mother. Drew knew that he and his cousin were the same age, but the kid looked too scrawny and small to be going on sixteen. He had to be at least two or three inches shorter than Drew, who wasn't exactly tall.

"Hi." He stuck out his hand. "Drew."

"Guten Tag. My name is Matthias." He shook Drew's hand. Strong grip, at least.

"Weird way to meet."

The boy cocked his head, hesitant. "Yah."

Oh, right, Drew thought. This kid only knows so much English. He searched his elemental German vocabulary for something equivalent to weird. He turned to his mom for help.

His mom explained, "Seltsame Art sich kennenzulernen."

Matthias nodded, solemn. "Yes. It is."

"I am very pleased to finally meet you, Drew." Matthias's mother gathered Drew into a brisk hug. "Please, call me Cousin Marta." She said the same to Joyce and Linda as she embraced them. Then the women were enveloped by a wave of welcoming military wives as the boys stood silent and awkward.

"Awwww, c'mon, ref! What was that?" the dads shouted at the TV.

"Boxing match. Olympics," Drew explained to Matthias. "You box?"

"Nein. You?"

"Naw. I play baseball. You?"


"Oh, great! Maybe we could throw the pigskin around later. I brought one from home."

"Not American football," Matthias said. "Foot-ball. Soccer."

"Oh. Well, maybe we could toss a baseball instead. You like baseball?"

Matthias shrugged. "Not much. A slow game."

Okay, was there any guy his age in Berlin who wasn't a jerk? Drew sighed.

Matthias sighed.

At Drew's elbow, Linda sighed, startling Drew. He hadn't noticed her inch out of the flock of moms. His heart sank at the nervousness fogging her face.

"Hey, sis." Drew put his arm around Linda's thin shoulders and gave her a squeeze. She still held the newspaper. "Whatcha reading?" he asked, knowing that question always opened her up.

"Oh! This a-mazing article by Ian Fleming! He was just here in Berlin!"

"Ian Fleming? Whoa."

Matthias looked at them blankly.

"You know, James Bond. Casino Royale, Live and Let Die, Goldfinger."

Matthias shook his head. "I have not heard of these."

Say whaaaat? Drew thought.

Linda held up the paper. "Look at the headline—'Spying Is Big Business in Berlin.' And look at these photos. This is the Great Tunnel. Right here in the city. The British discovered that the Russians and East Germans had run their underground telephone cables to Leningrad only three hundred yards from our sector's line. Not very far from where we're standing now. The Americans and the Brits dug this secret tunnel to tap into the Russians' telephone lines so they could hear everything the communists were saying! For three whole years! Just like something out of an Ian Fleming spy novel, don't you think?"

"Until we discovered you," Matthias muttered.

"That's right!" Linda said. "It's right here in this picture." She read the caption aloud: "One of the East German 'People's Police' examines a cable the Americans had tapped into and monitored from the U.S. radar station. Now that the tap is cut, both sides are again equal in the espionage battle." She looked up and smiled at Matthias.

Linda hadn't noticed the way Matthias had said we. But Drew sure had. For one thing, this guy clearly understood English better than he let on. And we meant that Matthias and Cousin Marta came from the Russian sector of the city, from East Berlin. Drew had just assumed they lived on the democratic Western side, where the British, French, and American forces held the line against Soviet incursion.

What was his mom thinking? This kid might be a card-carrying commie! And here he was at a party swarming with American sergeants. Some of these men had to be intelligence officers. What would they think of Drew's family being cozy with the enemy?

"Excuse me a sec." Furious, Drew wove his way through the party toward his mother. Maybe he could convince her to retreat with Cousin Marta and Matthias across the hall to their own apartment before anyone else figured out what Drew just had.

But he was too late.

"Oh, you're from East Berlin!" one of the moms was saying. "You know, our maid comes from there, too, every day. She has that special work permit. She's one of those . . . oh . . . what's the slang word you East Germans use for laborers who go back and forth?"

"Grenzgänger," said Marta. Her wary look turned defensive.

"That's it. Border-hopper. The term's rather derogatory, isn't it? Anyway, my maid says it's most economical for her to work in West Berlin, where the pay is better and the money more stable, but to live in the city's eastern sector, where things are so much cheaper." The woman lowered her voice to a conspiratorial hush. "She smuggles meat back across the line for her children. I know you can't get fresh meat over there—if you can get meat at all. So awful, the way the Russians plunder East Germany and take most everything good for themselves."

The woman tut-tutted as she crossed her arms and concluded, "You know, Mrs. Schneider, there are plenty of military families looking for housekeepers, if you're interested. We all say the same—of all the help we've had in our postings overseas, the best maids are German."

Drew stopped in his tracks seeing his mother turn as red as he did when he was mortified.

"Thank you for the"—Cousin Marta paused and seemed to choose each of her next words very carefully—"kind concern. Everything you say is true. Our life in East Berlin is much harder than it would be here. But I am already employed. I am a nurse at Charité Hospital, where they are training me to be a doctor."

"A woman doctor?" The woman stared at her in amazement.

"Yes," answered Cousin Marta. "One of the good things about the socialist state is the equality of opportunity. Women who are found capable are trained as readily as men to be doctors. Almost half the doctors delivering babies at Charité are female."

Drew's mother slipped her hand through her cousin's arm, artfully cutting off the conversation. "Are you hungry, Marta? Your buffet looks wonderful, Mrs. Jones."

"Goodness, call me Judy, please." She gestured to the table as Drew's mom and Cousin Marta separated themselves from the klatch.

The other women took their seats, trying in vain to quiet their husbands, who were shouting at the TV, telling Ed Crook how to punch and the ref how to call the match.

As he turned to follow his cousins to the food, Drew noticed Matthias pocketing cookies and oranges. His mouth dropped open. "Mom," he whispered, pointing toward the table.

Appearing out of nowhere, Joyce playfully slapped at Drew's hand. "No more Rice Krispies treats for you, mister. Save some for the rest of us."

"But, Joyce, he—"

"I know. I saw him." Joyce kept her voice soft. "I heard an interesting joke tonight from one of the girls. Want to hear it?" She didn't wait for an answer. "What nationality were Adam and Eve? Why, they were Russian, of course. How do you know? Because they were both naked, had only an apple to eat, and thought they were in paradise."

Drew turned to face her. "That's not funny."

"No. It's pitiful. People in the Soviet Bloc and East Germany always seem to be on the verge of starvation while they march and sing about the joys of communism." Joyce paused. "You better get used to the fact Mom wants us to be friends with these cousins, maybe even convince them to flee the East. You know how she is when she sets her mind to saving someone, even if they have no interest in being saved."

Yeah, he knew it. Cousin Marta and Matthias were in for a full-on Emily McMahon campaign. But Drew wasn't so sure he wanted to be drafted into this do-gooder mission of hers—it was already starting to feel like a nightmare.

"That's the ticket! Ed-die! Ed-die! Ed-die!"

The dads jumped out of their seats and raised their glasses in a toast. Ed Crook had just won the middleweight gold medal for America. "First army boxer to win the Olympics," crowed Sergeant Jones.

"Hey, what in blue blazes? Look at that." Drew's dad motioned to the TV. "The crowd is heckling him!" Drew turned to see people throwing programs and shaking their fists.

"Are you kidding me?" Sergeant Jones exclaimed. Now the crowd in Rome was stomping in protest. "Bunch of Italian communists and their anti-American bull! Poor Eddie. Look at his face. He fought a clean fight. What gives? Wait . . . shhh . . . shhh . . . he's stepping up on the podium to get his medal."

In Rome, the crowd continued to jeer. But as "The Star-Spangled Banner" began playing, the Berlin Brigade men snapped to attention. Everyone in the apartment rose and sang, drowning out the booing on the TV.

Everyone except Cousin Marta and Matthias.

The kitchen phone began to ring. The Joneses ignored it—the national anthem was playing. But it rang again. Sergeant Jones snatched up the receiver. "Sergeant Jones's quarters, Sergeant Jones speaking. Whoever this is, you better be calling about Eddie winning!"

His attitude instantly sobered. "Yes, sir. Understood, sir." He turned to the room. "Sorry, gentlemen. Go home. You'll be receiving your own calls. It seems the Russians and their GDR lapdogs are shutting down the city's East-West border for five days, starting in a few hours."

"Why?" Mrs. Jones gasped.

"Why do the Russkies do anything?" he answered curtly. But after letting out a sigh that reeked of impatience with his wife, he added, "According to the Politburo, it's a precaution against West Berlin"­—he paused to make quote marks in the air­—" 'provoking potential unrest' by hosting a reunion of German POWs and relatives of those still missing in action. So many German POWs died in Soviet work camps before Stalin finally released them; the reunion touched a guilty Russian nerve, I guess. The border closure is a typical Soviet redirect—accusing the West of making trouble to distract from their own inhumane policies."

Sergeant Jones retreated to his bedroom, and all the other men left, quickly kissing their wives goodbye before they exited. "Don't worry," Drew's dad said to his mom with a grin. "This is what I came here for!"

Sergeant Jones reemerged in uniform with a sidearm on his belt. "Sorry, ma'am," he said to Cousin Marta as he passed. "You better go back across right away if you want to make it home before the border shuts." He put his hand on Bob's shoulder. "Help your mother. No screwing around." Then he was gone.

Without comment, the women began gathering dishes and cleaning.

Drew's mom stared at the door, looking dumbfounded. "How long will they be mobilized?"

Mrs. Jones shrugged. "Your children are wearing their dog tags, right? And you have an emergency bag packed and your water-sterilizing tablets, just in case?" She stopped picking up plates to give Drew's mom an apologetic smile and a sympathetic pat on the arm. "Welcome to Berlin."



"Victory, victory, is our cry!"

Sitting in the gym of the Berlin Brigade's American school, Drew was watching cheerleader tryouts and feeling like a dope. He'd been in Germany for almost three weeks. He should have gone to the PX to buy a maroon crewneck or something so he could dress in school colors like everyone else for this September opening assembly—especially since Joyce was out on the floor, auditioning.

Whenever Drew felt like grumbling over being uprooted again, he reminded himself how much this new deployment stunk for his big sister. She'd been head cheerleader back in the States, the lead in almost every play, and a soloist in all her choral groups. As a senior, she would have totally ruled their old high school, probably even been prom queen. Instead, she was here, starting all over again.

Joyce was a shoo-in for this squad, though. The other girls were good, too, but Joyce was . . . well, look at her, Drew thought. She's Joyce. He turned to Bob, who'd announced he was going to be Drew's designated escort for the first week of classes. "We actually vote on who makes the squad?" he asked.

"Yup," grunted Bob. "Although teachers have the deciding vote." He gestured dismissively toward some of the older teachers standing along the wall of the gym and added, loud enough for everyone around them to hear, "But I bet they don't remember what makes a guy stand up and cheer."

The girls sitting next to them made faces and squirmed as far away as they could get on the crowded bleachers.

Drew wasn't so sure Bob was the guy he really wanted as his wingman.

Clap-clap, clap. "Ber-lin Cubs!"

The crowd echoed. Clap-clap, clap. Stomp-stomp, stomp. The bleachers swayed.


  • “Immersive . . . An expertly crafted, evocative time capsule.”
    Publishers Weekly, starred review

    “Elliott both fills in the historical background—aided by Behm’s mixing of period photos, contemporary news, and pop-culture notes—and crafts a tale of rising tensions that culminates in a suspenseful climax . . . A sensitive exploration of cogent themes in a richly detailed historical setting.”
    Kirkus Reviews, starred review

    “Elliott’s latest is set a year prior to the unexpected rise of the Berlin Wall, incorporating all kinds of historical context, including science, world events, politics, and entertainment, through pictures at the beginning of each chapter, allowing readers to immerse themselves in the period. The portrayal of events is first-rate, creating a poignant yet lighthearted read.”

On Sale
Feb 7, 2023
Page Count
352 pages

L.M. Elliott

About the Author

L.M. Elliott was an award-winning magazine journalist in Washington, D.C., before becoming a New York Times bestselling author of historical and biographical young adult novels. Her works include Under a War-Torn Sky, Suspect Red, and Hamilton and Peggy.

Learn more about this author