Advance Middle School and Up
Thirteen-year-old Matthew is miserable. His journalist dad is stuck overseas indefinitely, and his mom has moved in his one-hundred-year-old great-grandmother to ride out the pandemic, adding to his stress and isolation.
But when Matthew finds a tattered black-and-white photo in his great-grandmother’s belongings, he discovers a clue to a hidden chapter of her past, one that will lead to a life-shattering family secret.
Set in alternating timelines that connect the present-day to the 1930s and the US to the USSR, Katherine Marsh’s latest novel sheds fresh light on the Holodomor – the horrific famine that killed millions of Ukrainians and which the Soviet government covered up for decades.
I’ve read about some truly nightmarish storylines over the year, but this story has the most horrific story matter I have ever read. What makes it even worse is that it is based on historical events. Meaning all these horrible things happened to real people!
I remember sitting through history classes back in school and being horrified and uncomfortable with just about everything I learned. Learning about horrible moments in history is challenging for those who feel too much. And Ukraine just might have the darkest history in all the world. The poor citizens of Ukraine can’t seem to catch a break, in the past or the present.
I’m not saying the book itself is bad. The book is incredible and really sucked me in. It’s the subject matter that’s horrible. I listened to the audiobook and could feel the pain and sorrow in the narrator’s voice. I don’t know how I managed to keep listening without crying. The only reason I kept listening was that I had to know what happened to everyone. If you are under fourteen and overly sensitive, DO NOT READ THIS BOOK! Read it when you’re older and emotionally mature enough to handle it.
I went into this book with little knowledge about Ukraine and Russia. I knew a little about Stalin, so having one of the characters call him, ‘Papa Stalin,’ disturbed me. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t trust anyone who calls themselves ‘The Supreme Leader.’ That’s a red flag right there. Anyway, I had a hard time understanding what was going on. It would have been better if I had learned some info about Ukraine and the time period before reading the book.
Luckily, I found a three-minute video on YouTube that explains the basic historical info you’ll need to understand this book better.
Here’s a link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLlp-LmXm3s&t=68s
It wasn’t just the history I had a hard time following. With three different narrators telling their own story over two separate timelines in two different countries, it’s a lot to take in. I recommend taking notes to keep all the facts straight.
On a lighter note, I enjoyed all the Ukrainian names. Their last names have a lot of Vs in them. I don’t know why I like that. I just do.
I love finding more middle school books about lesser-known historical events. I’m learning more about history from reading these books than I ever did in history class.
I know this review doesn’t give much info about the actual story, but I didn’t want to give away any information that might spoil the story.
Final note, if you could handle watching The Owl House, Amphibia, Steven Universe, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and The Legend of Korra, you are emotionally capable of reading this book.