HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: After the Train
Author: Gloria Whelan
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2009
Related website(s): http://www.harpercollinschildrens.com (publisher)
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 8 – 12
Rating: ***** 5 stars
(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Whelan, Gloria. After the Train (Published in 2009 by HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, 1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York City, NY 10019). It is 1955, and thirteen-year-old Peter Liebeg lives with his father Bernard, an architect, and mother Emma, a teacher, in Rolfen, West Germany, just across the Wakenitz River border with communist East Germany, where Mr. Liebeg is in charge of rebuilding the bombed-out St. Mary’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. The Liebegs had moved to the north from Ulm in Swabia when Peter was very small. Peter enjoys soccer and rowing, and his best friends are Hans Adler and Kurt Niehl. While Peter is tired of his eighth-grade teacher, Herr Schmidt, droning on about the horrible Nazis and the evils of anti-Semitism, the boy has nightmares in which he as a little child is at a train station being lifted up by a crying young woman and pushed through a door or window to someone else.
Curious about his father’s role in World War II, Peter stumbles across a letter that he was never meant to see and learns a troubling secret—he was adopted. Why had his parents never told him this? Who were his real parents? What happened to them, and where are they now? The real value of this story is in the relationships with a message of acceptance and understanding. As Peter and his friends fish, a teenager from the East is seen crossing the 15-foot high fence, over the barbed wire, and falling into the river on the Western side, a perfect opportunity to emphasize the penalties many millions of Germans paid attempting to escape a nasty Communist dictatorship for forty years. Also, Peter befriends a former philosophy professor of Heidelberg, an older Jewish man now a bricklayer for the local church.
As Peter struggles to find his real identity, the relationship between him and his adopted parents becomes strained. Soon he questions everything—the town’s peaceful nature, his parents’ stories about the war, and his own sense of belonging, but he learns how to deal with this life changing news. There are several great elements in this story to make it exciting for young readers. The intensity of the issues, the blend of personal conflict and historical facts, and the young teen’s present-tense narrative will hold readers. Many books are written about the Holocaust, but this novel is about the impact it had after the war and, to some extent, still has on people today. If one is interested in World War II, the Holocaust, or German history, After the Train would be a great book to pick up.