Grade 5-8-A story of a remarkable 13-year-old girl in an extraordinary situation. In Leningrad, in 1934, Marya sets out to find her parents, former aristocrats and therefore considered enemies of the state, who have been sent to Siberia as political prisoners. The spirited and resourceful girl learns that her mother is in Dudinka, a thousand miles from the closest railway station. Marya obtains a few rubles selling her paintings (like Kobe in Homeless Bird [HarperCollins, 2000], Marya's creativity helps sustain her) and buys tickets for herself and her younger brother. At the railway station, the children begin their trek, finding their way by following a river. Some strangers help them; others conspire to report them to the authorities for placement in an orphanage. A tribe of reindeer-herding Samoyeds helps the children to their final stop, where they are reunited with their mother. Papa, who had been sent to a coal-mining camp in Siberia, eventually joins them, but is so ill that he dies at the first signs of spring. Life under Stalin as seen through the eyes of Marya is accessible, well researched, and culturally insightful. Lyrical prose conveys both a strong sense of place and the tremendous love that compels the protagonist to find her parents. Once again, Whelan successfully explores territory less traveled in books for young people.
Connie Tyrrell Burns, Mahoney Middle School, South Portland, ME
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Gr. 5-8. In a companion to Angel on the Square (2001), Whelan turns her attentions to Stalinist Russia, circa 1934. Following the murder of a local Communist party official, 13-year-old Marya's parents (the grown-up Katya and Mishka from the earlier novel) are arrested and sent into exile. Marya and her younger brother Georgi try to manage on their own at first, but eventually they set off on a long trek from Leningrad to Siberia, where they hope to locate their mother. Although the odds are great, with help from a kindly doctor, a fisherman's wife, and a band of nomadic Samoyeds, they succeed. Whelan centers her narrative on the children's journey, adding depth with a wealth of rich background details--about political prisons, the prevailing attitudes toward Communist dissidents, the changing lifestyles of the indigenous peoples of Siberia, and the absence of personal and religious freedoms, and much more. Give this to children who liked the previous book and to fiction fans who are interested in this historical period. A glossary of Russian terms is appended. Kay Weisman
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