Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ALA Midwinter 2013. All quotes are based on an uncorrected text.
“Maybe I ought to work out the risks, remind myself of everything I’ve been warned about, take stock of what I have to lose. I know that’s what David would do if he was here with me, but that’s not the kind of person I am, and it’s not who I want to be, either. Mysteries are for solving, walls are for climbing, secret hideouts are for exploring. That’s just how things are.”
Thirteen year old Joshua lives inside the Occupied Zone in the town of Amarias with his mother, and his stepfather, Liev, under the shadow of The Wall. Joshua has never questioned The Wall, or the received wisdom which says that his people must be protected from the people who live on the other side of it. But when he is presented with the opportunity to cross, and catch a glimpse of life on the other side, there is no question that he will go. What he encounters at the other end of the tunnel will change his perspective forever. It is by no means certain that he will be able to return home, but even if he can, it will never be the same.
The world of The Wall is described as “a tense reality closely mirroring Israel’s West bank,” but practically speaking, there is nothing to distinguish it. True, the town of Amarias is fictional, and the words Palestinian and Israeli are never used, but the small details make the reality abundantly clear. The Wall is not an alternate universe, so much as a fictional village in a real place. The world is just like ours. The characters that live in Amarias have Jewish names, keep their holy day on Saturday, and believe the land that they live on has been given to them by God. The parallel is so blatant that the slight fictional distancing seems unlikely to accomplish much. It certainly won’t make a story that is decidedly sympathetic to the Palestinian plight more palatable to supporters of Israel. However, it would be entirely possible to read and understand The Wall without knowing anything about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Although the world at the other end of the tunnel is not exactly a parallel one after all—at least not in the manner of Narnia, or the like—Sutcliffe does tap into something of the essence of these ideas. Just as Narnia stands on the cusp of the Pevensies’ transition to adulthood, Joshua’s trip across The Wall is his coming of age. It opens his eyes to all the things that were right there all along, but never examined, much less questioned. Despite its Palestinian leanings, the novel is hardly simple. Joshua’s plans rarely come off as intended, and his efforts to do the right thing often cause as much harm as good. His moral principles simply do not fit the world he has been brought up in, and nor is he aware of how high the stakes really are.
The chief problem with this novel is pacing, which lags between the inciting incident and the ramp up to the climax. While I was intrigued by the opening pages in which Joshua crosses The Wall, after this initial adventure it was more than halfway through the book before the plot took solid hold of my attention once again. However, I’m glad I persevered, as the second half of the book reignited the intrigue I felt in the opening chapters, and then some.
Already read and enjoyed The Wall? I recommend The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.