Speaking of history, let's talk Communism...
|Photo from Goodreads|
Author: Eugene Velchin
Date published: September, 2011 from Harry Holt and Co.
Newberry Honor (2012)
Sasha Zaichik has known the laws of the Soviet Young Pioneers since the age of six:
The Young Pioneer is devoted to Comrade Stalin, the Communist Party, and Communism.
A Young Pioneer is a reliable comrade and always acts according to conscience.
A Young Pioneer has a right to criticize shortcomings.
But now that it is finally time to join the Young Pioneers, the day Sasha has awaited for so long, everything seems to go awry. He breaks a classmate's glasses with a snowball. He accidentally damages a bust of Stalin in the school hallway. And worst of all, his father, the best Communist he knows, was arrested just last night.
This moving story of a ten-year-old boy's world shattering is masterful in its simplicity, powerful in its message, and heartbreaking in its plausibility.
Here's a little secret about me: One of the reasons I like reading MG books is because they're short. This allows me to read more of them in the time that it takes to read something like, oh say, Game of Thrones (*cough4monthscough*).
BREAKING STALIN'S NOSE is 160 pages and filled with author illustrations. In terms of this adult reading it, I did it in two days. I imagine a MG reader could do it in a few.
I enjoyed this book because the very first chapter pulled me in to Sasha's world, which as an outsider, we know is subtly uncomfortable. I love it when authors evoke emotional responses from me like this because we can see so clearly how this situation isn't right. I know Communism isn't right, but reading it from Sasha's perspective made me even more uncomfortable.
The whole book covers only two days in the life of Sasha, which helps keep the tension level high. I felt sympathy for the antagonists, who had their own stories and motivations.
I'm not sure if children today will be able to grasp just how real Sasha's life was. More important, I wonder if young readers will understand the setting wasn't really that long ago. If you don't have an understanding of world history or Communism, this would almost read like another MG dystopian, which is a creepy concept for me to wrap my head around. This book depicted at way of life that happened less than 100 years ago. Blows my mind.
BREAKING STALIN'S NOSE weaves morals and lessons through the chapters and does a nice job of portraying a society where you can't trust anyone, not even your neighbors. At the end, Sasha has a choice to make and he quickly realizes how, in only two days, his world has irrevocably changed.
Would my nephews read this book? I think so. But I don't think they would willingly reach for it. As a historical novel, it's not up their alley. However, I think it's a quick enough read of an important enough topic, that maybe they should read it.