As you read the reviews on Bookshop Talk, you'll notice that every review is positive. No, we're not a bunch of literary
pushovers who love everything we pick up; we just see no point in telling you about a book if we didn't like it.

June 13, 2012

BREAKING STALIN'S NOSE by Eugene Yelchin, 2011

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. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Kim Harris Thacker:  writer, mommy, and Bookshop Talk host

BREAKING STALIN'S NOSE is the story of two days in the life of Sasha Zaichick, a young man who, at the beginning of the book, looks forward to tomorrow, when he will become a Soviet Young Pioneer--an avowed communist--just like his father, who is a member of Stalin's Secret Police.  However, the night before the ceremony, Sasha's father is forcibly taken from their communal home, by other members of the Secret Police, leaving Sasha entirely alone.  Sasha believes some terrible mistake has been made--a mistake that needs only to be called to the attention of Comrade Stalin for it to be cleared up entirely.

So begins Sasha's story, and so the reader witnesses Sasha's world begin to turn upside down.  But BREAKING STALIN'S NOSE is not a story without hope.  Dark things are thrown into the light, and while Sasha endures so much, he does so with bravery and humor.  And he is not the only character worth loving.
My favorite part of the story is when Sasha is forced by his teacher, Nina Petrovna, to move from the front of his classroom, where he sat as a honored pupil, to the back of the classroom with other "unreliables"--pupils who are the children of those who were arrested for fighting against communism.  Sasha's reaction to this move shows his changing view of communism.
[The pupils who will take the vow of the Young Pioneers] bugle, drum, and march around Nina Petrovna's desk.  From the back row, the classroom looks different.  I'm here with the otherunreliables, and I can see much better from here.  Now I can see the whole room.
The story is told entirely from Sasha's point of view, and Yelchin did a wonderful job keeping the voice consistent and believable, in spite of earth-shattering changes that take place over the small period of time in which the story is told.  BREAKING STALIN'S NOSE is also based on an event that took place in Yelchin's life.  The "back matter" of the book tells about this event, and also contains details about the "Reign of Terror"--a horrifying period of time in which "Stalin's State Security [the same Secret Police of which Sasha's father was a member] executed, imprisoned, or exiled over twenty million people."
I highly recommend this quick read (there are lots of amazing illustrations, also done by the author) to anyone who wishes to learn about this period of Russia's history.  In particular, I recommend it to teachers and homeschooling parents who wish to combine lessons in world history and literature.  Not only is this a very informative work of historical fiction, it is also a great example of quality children's literature.  It recently won a Newbery Honor from the American Library Association.
I also suggest that you visit Eugene Yelchin's website, where you can learn more about Sasha's Moscow.

MARKET: MG Historical Fiction


VIOLENCE: moderate (implied, more than anything)
MATURE THEMES: everything you would expect in a novel about Stalin's Reign of Terror:  death, families torn apart, hunger, human suffering, brainwashing...though nothing is inappropriate for a middle grade audience

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