Thursday, May 5, 2011

Wallflower, by Holly-Jane Rahlens

I don't normally do 'official' book reviews, but here's my first.

I'm not two things:

1. I'm not a big fan of YA literature unless I'm reading it with a child.

2. I'm not a reviewer.

But a friend and book blogger who reviews mostly paranormal, sci fi and fantasy literature asked me if I'd be willing to read and review a more or less contemporary YA written by an American ex-pat living in Berlin. As the protagonist is a Jewish girl, my friend thought the story, Wallflower, might be right up my alley. I'm Jewish as are at least two of my heroines - Mari in Captured and Eva in Beauty and the Feast.

I pondered her request for a few minutes, and then I decided, why not? I'm in a writing slump anyway, so what the heck...It seemed like a good idea to read something out of my comfort zone.

Wallflower can best be described as a day in the life. Actually, it's more apt to say four hours in the life of the protagonist, Molly Beth Lenzfeld, an American teen living in Berlin with her father. She's tall, gangly, morose, lacks self-confidence and feels out of place at her American school. She's actually on her way out. Molly plans to return to the States to live with her older sister. The Berlin Wall has only recently come crashing down and now that she's leaving Germany, Molly decides to make a pilgrimage to East Berlin to visit her deceased mother's original home, the site where her mother was born, the place she left behind with her parents when they fled Nazi persecution in 1938.

Traveling from West to East on the train, Molly is sidetracked, first by an unpleasant acquaintance and then by a young man, a tall, enigmatic, East German drama student, Michael Maier, or Mick, as his friends call him. Despite Molly's doubts and insecurities, Mick's interested in her. Not only interested, but persistent. During the four hours Molly spends traveling from West to East, she never manages to find her mother's home, at least, she never finds it when we're watching. She finds something else entirely. Hope.

My thoughts...Holly-Jane Rahlens, a journalist by profession, writes lovely prose in the style I prefer - her words are clean, clear and crisp. There's an unusual amount of detail in the short story, yet nothing is extraneous or trivial. Those sensual and tactile details included are absolutely necessary. The reader can hear, see, feel and smell the train car, the subway stations, the foods of East Berlin, even the streets themselves. I swear I could smell the worn yet welcoming scent of Mick's leather jacket.

Wallflower is a delicate story. Not much happens in four hours. No one is murdered, there is no great catastrophe, even the climax of the story is calm and thoughtful. Yet in the space of four hours, a seventeen year old girl is transformed from a wallflower into a young woman. The story is exquisite, actually. The teenage voices are realistic, the characters believable. Wallflower is a refreshing change from what's become the formulaic YA novel containing absentee and/or incompetent parents and super-powered teens. Molly's father cares about her, her sister cares about her, and every character is a regular human being, warts and all. This is a quick read and I do recommend it.

Wallflower was first published in German in 2009, by Rowohlt/Reinbek.

It was released in 2010 in the United States by Berlinica Publishing, LLC, website:

I couldn't find a website for the author, Holly-Jane Rahlens, but her bio says she was born in New York, and moved to Berlin shortly after college, where she's remained, working in radio, television and film. In 2003, her novel Prince William, Maximillian Minsky and Me earned the prestigious Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis as the best young adult novel in Germany.

Ah…found a website!

Since I don't normally do this, I guess I have to say the following: a copy of the book was received from the author. This reviewer did not receive any financial reimbursement for the review.


  1. I found this to be a wonderful review. You've piqued my interest in the book. :)

  2. Since I'm not usually a fan of YA, because in my mind they do seem so formulaic, this book surprised me.

  3. Wallflower sounds wonderful. I would have loved to have read this book in my teens! I envy the YA's today, they have so many great choices.
    You did a terrific review.
    XXOO Kat

  4. Thanks, Kat. Very authentic teen voices.

  5. Dear Julia,

    I gave you a book? When? But: I adore the review. Thanks. hjr

  6. I think you did a great job with the review...

  7. Holly, I think your publisher must have sent me the book then! Thank her for me!


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