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The Wall Hardcover – June 4, 2013
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From Publishers Weekly
Thirteen-year old Joshua's circumscribed life in the newly developed and carefully guarded town of Amarias changes when a search for his soccer ball takes him over The Wall. This barrier separates his people from those on the other side, who are, according to his stepfather, "Terrorists! People who want to kill us!" Joshua's discovery of a bulldozed house, a tunnel, and a town so different from his-both in its liveliness and its poverty-along with an act of friendship from a supposed enemy challenge this perspective. Narrating in first-person present tense, Joshua shares his internal struggles and corresponding actions as his growing awareness of contrasting social realities awaken him to a world of nuance, political complexity, and ethical dilemmas. For example, a request from his new friends to water their orchard on his side of The Wall leads Joshua to defy parental limits and government strictures. Throughout this riveting story, which parallels the conflict on Israel's West Bank, adult author Sutcliffe conveys a sense of the moral imperative to bear witness and risk failure in pursuit of justice. Ages 12-up. Agent: Felicity Rubinstein, Lutyens & Rubinstein.
From School Library Journal
Gr 7-10–Drawing from the military and cultural tensions in the West Bank, this is a deeply moving tale about a boy whose life dramatically shifts once he realizes the truth about where he lives. Thirteen-year-old Joshua lives with his mother and stepfather in Amarias, a heavily guarded town with a high wall meant to keep out the militants who presumably live on the other side. While searching for an errant soccer ball, he comes across a tunnel leading underneath the Wall. Realizing that he won't get a glimpse of what lies beyond it until his military conscription in a few years, the curious teen crawls toward the unknown. Upon emerging, Joshua is chased by boys who are intent on harming him. Risking her own life, Leila offers Joshua refuge in her home and later leads him safely back to the tunnel. From this point on, the novel takes on a decidedly existential tone; Joshua is crippled with guilt over his inability to help Leila overcome her many hardships. He also struggles to reconcile his parents' firmly held ideas about the “militants” with the girl who saved him. Joshua's feelings lead him to make several well-meaning choices that do more harm than good for Leila and her family. His tenuous relationship with his stepfather worsens, culminating in a terrifying standoff. Through brilliant pacing and a relatable protagonist, Sutcliffe sensitively portrays the brutal realities of military occupation. For those wishing to understand more about the West Bank, there is a helpful author's note with suggested readings. Recommend with Elizabeth Laird's A Little Piece of Ground (Haymarket, 2006) and Michael Morpurgo's Shadow (Feiwel & Friends, 2012) to readers interested in learning more about conflicts in the Middle East.–Lalitha Nataraj, Escondido Public Library, CAα(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Top customer reviews
Although this review focuses on questions and criticisms, I definitely recommend THE WALL. It provides a view of the mentalities of two neighboring but antagonistic societies, particularly of the settlers living on usurped land. While the people whose land they have taken understandably resent them but can take little action, the settlers are obsessed by the official dogma that they are under mortal threat from barbarous enemies. Mr. Sutcliffe has done well to highlight the intractable problems posed by the Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.
The plot line, briefly: Joshua is an Israeli boy living in the settlement and unhappy at home because of conflict with his brutal stepfather. He discovers a tunnel under the high "separation wall" that his government has built between the two communities. Exploring the tunnel, he emerges in the Palestinian village, runs into trouble, and is helped by a Palestinian girl. Feeling indebted to her, he goes back--and finds himself agreeing to care for her family's olive trees. His actions are discovered, but Joshua makes one more attempt to reach the family, which leads to a final crisis and a life-changing decision.
The dynamics of this dysfunctional settler family are compelling. While Joshua's intense dislike of the stepfather rings true, glimpses of the man's rigid personality, reflecting a paranoid group mentality, provide some understanding for him as well.
Basic questions, however, get in the way of the story's credibility. Who dug that tunnel, and how did they do it? And why? I found no clues. Why would Joshua take off his shoes when working in the stony soil of the olive grove? It makes him vulnerable to anyone who might steal the shoes. Why, with his well-indoctrinated fear of Palestinians, does Joshua so easily begin to identify with the Palestinian family? And who are these marauding teenage thugs in the village? That detail doesn't sound likely.
Above all, is this a credible 13-year-old boy? He tells his story in present tense, which provides immediacy and is effective in describing episodes of danger. But his highly sophisticated language, his feelings for his mother and the Palestinian girl, and his astonishing courage and physical strength strike me as much more believable for a youth of 18, or even 15, than a kid of thirteen. In short, I couldn't quite trust Joshua--and I wanted to.
Nonetheless, this is a book well worth reading, not only for the insights it provides into a major problem-area in the whole Israel-Arab conflict, but because in places, especially scenes of extreme suspense, the author's literary skills are excitingly impressive.