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With haunting echoes of the Berlin Wall, Crossing portrays a community living under the constraining shadow of a massive wall. An understated first-person narrative evokes the world 11-year-old Cara shares with her parents, who dedicate themselves to secret government work. They leave Cara to look after her little sister, queue for food and attend school. Using sharp, clean language, Catherine Norton creates a poignant portrait of Cara’s evolving dilemmas once she befriends some neighbours and begins to think a bit differently about the supposed safety ‘the Wall’ provides.
Not set in a particular time or place, Crossing could easily take place in many settings; the issues it grapples with so skilfully are universal ones. The nonlinear structure of the dystopian story, with its frequent flashbacks, adds to the power of the prose. The reader, along with Cara, slowly puts the pieces together and begins to understand the impact of unfolding events. The characters are convincing in this compelling novel, with its spare, taut text and simple yet graphic setting. The mesmerising story raises many questions about families and values, rules and ethics, and, especially, about trust and freedom.
Norton’s first novel for children resounds with many substantial issues as she deftly takes readers back and forth in time. Under the shadow of that massive wall she has created an alarming scenario that will draw readers in even as they recoil. Despite the complexity of the plot, it remains accessible — and, indeed, admirably suited — to an upper primary audience, who will have plenty to consider as they become enveloped in the narrative. The author is a master of control and her brilliantly restrained prose will reverberate with readers long after they read the last sentence of this exceptional piece of writing.