Based on a school siege in 2004 in Beslan, Russia, this novel illustrates the power of one person’s story to bring empathy to many. Mayhew’s novel uses Darya’s Russian voice and culture as well as her emerging English skills to heighten her message of the elasticity of time and how we deal with tragedy. Darya carries the weight of her sister Nika’s death after the schoolhouse siege, musing in her English workbook on what and how to remember and what and whom to forgive. Mayhew’s overall attention to the redemptive power of language, voice, and story make it a strong, compelling novel.
Mayhew (The Big Lie) constructs a vividly detailed Russian world in Darya’s stifling countryside town and in her experience of cosmopolitan confusion and solitude in Moscow. Darya’s self-honesty and resilience as she learns to survive the unbearable creates a raw, compelling read.
Readers may be unaware of the 2004 tragedy at Beslan where Russian separatists captured a school and killed over 300, but they will feel the effects of this story as though it were ripped from today’s headlines…A dark and deep story…this will appeal to readers who don’t flinch at depictions of dire circumstances.
Darya’s longing for a life of autonomy and respectability is relatable. Background knowledge of Russia will make reading easier; a glossary and information on Russian nomenclature helps fill the gap.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books