Review: Walls by L.M. Elliott 

From the opposing sides of the Cold War, cousins Drew and Matthias begin to overcome the ideological walls between them to become wary friends, but their loyalties will be tested in ways that will change their lives forever.

Cover Design: Kayla E.


The New York Times bestselling author of ten young adult novels, L. M. Elliott has long been known as a master of historical fiction that humanizes and illuminates contemporary issues, steeping readers in the eras of World War II, the Cold War, and the American Revolution. Now, in the unofficial follow-up to her 2017 Suspect Red, which followed two teenage boys swept up in the 1950s Red Scare, Elliott turns her attention to the espionage-riddled standoff between America and Soviet Russia in WALLS. Set in the tumultuous year leading up to the surprise overnight raising of the Berlin Wall in August 1961, and punctuated with real-life photographs, headlines, and personalities of the time, WALLS explores the budding friendship between two cousins on different sides of the communist/democracy divide and the very real dangers their growing bond presents their families. 

Drew is an army brat, a hotshot athlete poised to be his high school’s star pitcher, when he has to move for the sixth time in fifteen years—this time to West Berlin, where American soldiers like his dad hold an outpost of democracy against communist Russia in Hitler’s former capital. Meanwhile, in East Berlin, his cousin Matthias has grown up in the wreckage left by Allied bombing during World War II, on streets ruled by the Communist Party’s secret police. From the opposing sides of the Cold War, Drew and Matthias begin to overcome the many ideological walls between them to become wary friends. They argue over the space race, capitalism, socialism, and even the American civil rights movement, and bond over rock ’n’ roll—music outlawed in Matthias’s part of the city. As the political situation around them gets all the more dire, Drew and Matthias’s loyalty—to their sector, their countries, their families, and each other—will be tested in ways that will change their lives forever.

Moving by month through a historically monumental year, WALLS sheds light on a troubling, often overlooked chapter of history, and brings to vivid life the heroic and tragic choices of the Cold War. 18 

My Thoughts

Thank you to all family members of military personnel. I know for one that the tasks we ask of you are not easy. Thank you for supporting us through war, peace, health, and sickness. Thank you for your prayers, cards, and messages of hope. We see you. We hear you. We appreciate you more than words can say. From one veteran to all of you: I thank you.

L.M. Elliott writes a beautiful salute to military family members in Walls. I know the synopsis emphasizes the relationship between Drew and Matthias, but Walls is about so much more. Elliott describes what it is like for military brats when their parents get reassigned every couple of years. The hardships can be unbearable at times. Imagine not being able to take your dog who is your best friend. Or having to extend your graduation because the new school doesn’t accept your points. Or having to recreate your whole life from sports, to friends, to routines. Elliott does a fantastic job connecting with these real issues that families deal with today.

Elliott also introduces how racism can play a part in segregating someone who is white or in Drew’s case Irish too. Drew’s aunt and cousin live in East Berlin in the Russian sector. This opens Drew up to nasty communist and nazi comments from other American kids and from Germans. I cannot tell you how many times I wanted to smack Bob upside the head. 

Alongside the story of the book is a factual history of the times. Each chapter is a month starting with August 1960. There are photos and illustrations done by Megan Behm that tell us where the world is when this chapter starts. It is a plethora of information and grounds you to what else is going on globally.

I cannot recommend Walls enough. Elliott gives us a realistic glimpse into military family life, political terror, different points of view for commentary, and a slice of history. Walls is easy to read and highly recommend it for young adults and schools to add to their reading lists. Heck, even I learned things reading this (not that I am a know-it-all (laugh)). Read Walls.

I received an ARC of this book and I am writing a review without prejudice and voluntarily.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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From Author L.M. Elliott:

“My hope with WALLS is to provide a compelling, suspenseful read about whether two teens can learn to trust and care about one another, despite what they’ve been fed about the other’s world. Showing (I hope!) in a poignant, relatable way the importance of forming your own opinion based on personal experience and reflection. Not swallowing propaganda, disinformation, unsubstantiated conspiracy theories and innuendo, or demeaning slogans and stereotypes,” says Elliott, whose works have been recognized as NCSS/CBC Notables, Bank Street College of Education Best Books, and Grateful American Book Prize winners. “The set-up of two boys—each fervent believers in their diametrically opposed political philosophies who come to understand the other’s point of view—felt a potent way to humanize the effect of the Cold War’s dangerous polarization on the day-to-day lives of ordinary people. And given the narrative’s relevancy to some of today’s frictions, to spark some thoughts about readers’ own lives.”18 

Further Details:

Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers, 9781643750248, July 27, 2021

Photo Essay: Megan Behm

Narrator:  Elizabeth Wiley

Settings: Berlin, Germany

Pages: 352

Promotion materials provided by Algonquin Books.


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