Friday, February 03, 2012

Breaking Stalin's Nose

Breaking Stalin's Nose Eugene Yelchin

I hadn't read this one yet when it won a Newbery Honor last week, but I *did* have it already checked out from the library. WIN!

Sasha is going to be inducted into the Young Pioneers tomorrow, and his hero, his father, who works for State Security will be there performing the ceremony. But in the middle of the night, his father is arrested and the neighbors claim their room. At school the next day, starting with a snowball fight gone wrong, everything unravels and Sasha starts to see the truth about Stalin, the system, and the country he loves so much.

It took me awhile to get into Sasha's voice. He buys the communist line completely and sometimes his spouting of Communist rhetoric can seem like clumsy insertion of background info, but it's not. From what I know about living under a communist dictatorship with a strong cult of personality, that's exactly how a kid who was taught to believe in the system would talk. Plus, when Yelchin is actually adding in background information, it's not clumsy. It works really well

Recently, my dad caught a gang of wreckers scheming to blow it up. Wreckers are enemies of the people who want to destroy our precious Soviet property. I can't imagine anybody who would dare to damage a monument to Comrade Stalin, but there are some bad characters out there. Obviously, they're always caught.

I think that Yelchin's black-and-white graphite drawings really add the text and the story. I especially liked the way he plays with perspective and proportion to really give a Sasha-eye view of what's going on.

As things unravel at school, Yelchin ratchets up the tension and suspense, but this is still a solidly middle grade novel.

I do wish I would have read this before it won, so then I wouldn't have read it with my 'Is this Newbery worthy?' lens. Because with that lens on, I'm questioning "would he have become disillusioned so quickly? would he really have done X?" (X is a spoiler, so I won't tell you.) And I don't think those questions would have plagued me before Monday.

BUT! All doubts aside, it is a GREAT book. I think Yelchin does a FANTASTIC job of painting a society in its ideal and its horror in a way that's understandable and gripping for younger readers without diminishing the scope or facts. After I got into his voice, I loved Sasha. I loved seeing the world through his eyes, even as that world shattered. My heart broke for him.

Also, I LOVED the ending. It's a great ending without being too neat and tidy. Yelchin also has a great author's note.

Book Provided by... my local library

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