43 pages 1 hour read

Jennifer A. Nielsen

A Night Divided

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2015

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

Summary and Study Guide


An ILA-CBC Children’s Choices Reading List Selection, A Night Divided, by Jennifer A. Nielsen, dramatizes the experiences of the division of Germany after WWII and tells a tale of family separation from a child’s perspective. The novel explores the effects of repressive government on intimate relationships as the main character, Gerta, watches friendships and partnerships dissolve as a result of the Cold War. It is a story of individual heroism and family devotion.

At the start of the novel, Gerta is fairly unaware of the political challenges she and her family face. Her father has a history of government critique but has been careful to hide this from his children. Still traumatized by WWII, Gerta’s mother wants nothing to do with dissidents or protesting and desires only to keep her family clothed, fed, and safe. All this changes, however, when the Berlin Wall is erected overnight, while Greta, her family, and the rest of Germany sleeps.

Because he has been seeking employment in West Berlin, Gerta’s father is permanently separated from them, now a denizen of another world. Her brother, Dominic, who had accompanied her father over to West Germany, is also lost to them. Gerta, her mother, and her older brother, Fritz, are now barracked into their communist half of the nation. They cannot communicate with Gerta’s father or Dominic, and cannot receive monetary support or unadulterated letters. They have to begin living their lives with the new menacing partition of the wall splitting their family in half.

Neither Fritz nor Gerta are followers by nature. Fritz craves the amenities available in West Berlin—the Beatles albums, the Coca Cola, the right to dress as he pleases. Gerta does poorly at disguising her irritation during the indoctrination rituals at school and mandated Pioneer Club. But what sparks their rebellion is a sighting of other members of their family. First, Gerta spies a glimpse of her brother, Dominic, on the other side of the wall. Though she is told by watch tower guards to stop looking over there, to West Germany, a few days later, she sees her father, who begins doing a dance and mouthing the lyrics to a song she used to sing her. She realizes this is a message and that the word he leaves off on is pivotal. That word is “dig.” 

Following a map delivered to her by her friend, Anna, Gerta locates a building under which she and Fritz can tunnel to get to West Berlin. The process, however, is fraught with difficulty. Snooping neighbors and roaming guards are always nearby, forcing the siblings to pretend to innocently be working a garden while really working hard to tunnel to freedom. When Anna’s older brother, Peter, dies while trying to get across to the West, the government forces Anna to become a spy and she, too, tries to interrupt their progress.

After countless obstacles, a military conscription for Fritz, a work demotion for Gerta’s mother, and connections with some unlikely allies, Gerta and her family are finally reunited. By the novel’s end, Gerta has gained a newfound appreciation for freedom of speech and expression and a tangible sense of what heroism looks like in the real world.