This fast-paced and captivating story follows 10-year-old Sasha Zaichik during a pivotal two day period of his life. The book opens with Sasha writing a letter to his beloved Comrade Stalin, expressing his joy at his upcoming acceptance into the ranks of the Soviet Young Pioneers. But after his father is arrested, Sasha’s eyes are gradually opened to things that aren’t right in his world.
The first person narrative allows us to share in Sasha’s experiences: the optimism and hope he finds in Communism, his complete and utter trust in his great Leader and Teacher Stalin, his confusion at how Stalin could allow his father to be arrested, the pressure he faces at school to inform on his friends and family members, his realization that the system he has always known and loved may suddenly turn on him. It’s a fascinating account, written by a man who grew up in the Soviet Union himself, and is coupled with gripping black-and-white illustrations throughout.
This book is intended for children, and it doesn’t overstep those bounds. It deals with a difficult topic in a very accessible way. I would suggest this book for late elementary and middle schoolers, especially in a discussion-oriented environment with parents or teachers. It wasn’t as disturbing as other children’s books I’ve read on the topic, such as Peter Sis’ The Wall.
An excerpt from the Author’s Note sums up the book’s message well: “To this day, there are places in the world where innocent people face persecution and death for making a choice about what they believe to be right.”