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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney


A YA Thriller Set In Communist Germany

Sektion 20 - Paul Dowswell

Sektion 20 is set in East Berlin in the nineteen seventies. It's the story of a family who fall foul of the communist establishment because of the activities of their teenage son, Alex. As a result,they are forced to defect to the West although, unknown to the rest of the family, their escape has been facilitated by the Stasi because Frank, Alex's father, has agreed to spy on their behalf.

This book is all tell and no show. I've ticked the box that says 'hide review because of spoilers' but it hardly seems necessary because the author is so addicted to spelling out what all the characters are thinking and why they act as they do, that there is no room left for suspense: every turn of the plot is telegraphed in advance.

As well as undermining the tension, Paul Dowswell also disperses the point of view so widely among the characters that I found myself wondering whose story this was meant to be. Was it Alex's? Was it his father's? Or was it the story of Kohl, the ex-fascist turned Stasi agent who expedites the family's defection.

It's a bold and interesting idea to set a teenage novel in Soviet-controlled East Germany (but not the first time it's been done - Peter Carter's Bury The Dead immediately sprang to my mind). So perhaps that's why Sektion 20 has been nominated for the Carnegie Medal, the Book Trust Teenage Prize and the Red House Book Prize. But in my opinion the quality of the writing lets it down.