Ten year old Sasha Zaichik’s greatest dream in life is to become a Young Soviet Pioneer. His father works for the State Security and joining the Pioneers would make Sasha’s father proud and be an important step in following him in becoming a good Communist under Stalin. The mother having passed away years before, Sasha and his father live in a komunalka, a communal living apartment.
Sasha’s life changes when police show up one night and arrest his father. Their room is taken over and Sasha is thrown out in the snow. Turned away by relatives that same night, Sasha looks forward to the next day at school when he will become a Young Soviet Pioneer in the initiation ceremony.
But Sasha’s luck does not improve at school. While carrying the Soviet banner, he accidentally breaks the nose off of a Stalin statue. Hiding the misdeed, Sasha’s actions set off a school wide emergency as the administration struggles to pin the blame on someone.
Yelchin does an excellent job capturing the fear, paranoia, and dark humor of the U.S.S.R during Stalin’s reign. I found particularly compelling the anger and resiliency of Sasha’s classmates. These children, so beyond their years in their concerns, do everything they can to baffle, in their own small way, Stalin’s system of terror.
An excellent choice for children interested in Soviet history. I would also recommend to a parent or a teacher trying to show students what a society is like without freedoms and liberty. A Newberry Honor for 2012. Ages 9+