Thursday, June 26, 2014

Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy

Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy Elizabeth Kiem

Marina may be a teen in the Soviet Union, but her mother is the country’s premier prima ballerina, so her family lives in privilege. Marina herself trains for the Bolshoi. Like her mother, she sometimes sees visions. These visions cause problems when, on the eve of Breshnev’s death, her mother sees something she shouldn’t--one of the USSR’s dark secrets about testing biological weapons* that gets her taken away.

Suddenly, it’s not safe anymore. Marina and her father must leave quickly, and end in Brighton Beach where her scientist father struggles to find a job and a way to rescue his wife. All Marina wants to do is dance, and her father is convinced this will help him make contact with the KGB so they can negotiate. Meanwhile, he gets tangled in with the Russian Mob as Marina tries to lead a normal life in a new country while fearing for her father’s safety and sanity.

I really liked this one and Marina’s father’s mental descent. You could see why he thought the things he thought, while still seeing how wrong they were. I liked how the romance was handled. Marina likes Ben, whose parents also escaped the USSR, but he has a girlfriend, Lindsay. Marina and Lindsay are also friends, and while it’s complicated, and slightly heartbreaking, it’s not overly dramatic and the way the characters handled it made me really like and respect them. Lindsay often didn’t know what she was talking about, especially when it came to the KGB and the Mob, but she was a really good friend and a great character.

I do think it needs an end note. Teens today don’t understand Soviet communism and the Cold War. (And trying to explain the terror of the Cold War to kids who’ve grown up in a world of terrorism and suicide bombers is really heart-breakingly hard.) Heck, when this came out a librarian only a few years younger than me was confused about what was so scary about that time. I also wanted to know if the testing episode that Marina’s mother knew about was real. It’s real in the book and seems more than plausible to me. A quick google doesn’t turn anything up, but was it based on other incidents?

I’m also not sure the paranormal psychic-vision thing was necessary. It was the lynch-pin as to why Marina’s mother was taken, and Marina’s visions added some moody foreshadowing, but there might have been another way for Marina’s mother to find out about the testing and made the book straight historical fiction, which would have made it stronger. 99% of the book is realistic historical fiction, and it’s tricky, because it’s a time period that many adults (read: parents and other gatekeepers) remember living through, but many readers (read: teens) don’t know much about, and the 1% that is paranormal makes the rest of the story easier to dismiss as “pure fiction.”

Overall though, I did really like it. It’s hard to go wrong with something that involves the KGB, the FBI, the Russian mob, and ballet. And, as someone who has very vivid memories of the end of the Cold War, I am loving all the YA fiction we’re seeing now about it. (Plus, not a book, and not for teens, but let’s just think for a minute how awesome The Americans is.)

Book Provided by... my local library

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