Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy
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Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy

3.05 of 5 stars 3.05  ·  rating details  ·  263 ratings  ·  81 reviews
A new breed of spy novel combines classic thrills(The Americans,John Le Carre, and Alan Furst), Bolshoi intrigue, and elements of the paranormal.

Marina is born of privilege. Her mother, Sveta, is the Soviet Union's prima ballerina: an international star handpicked by the regime. But Sveta is afflicted with a mysterious second sight and becomes obsessed with exposing a hor...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published August 13th 2013 by Soho Teen (first published January 1st 2013)
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The extent of history that I know associated with Russia and the Soviet Union would include Anastasia, George Orwell's Animal Farm, and now this book. Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy had a ton of history in it– people, places, events. I loved the journey from the Soviet Union to Brooklyn, the effect of a new culture and new home on Marina.
This novel took me a while to complete. Nearly 300 pages, it surprised me that it took me so long...more
Mar 06, 2013 Sarah marked it as to-read
This sounds soooooo intriguing.
For those more familiar with spy novels and Russian intrigue, this novel will probably have familiar terms and elements. I haven’t read many spy novels, proper spy novels, so I couldn’t really say. Unless, you count a lifelong obsession with the original Nikita. Marina is an interesting character; her struggles and internal conflicts both in Russia and in New York feel authentic and organic. She is intriguingly self-aware of her own privilege when she is living in Moscow and that gives an intere...more
Brandi Rae
This was more of a 1980's Cold War spy book than a dancing book, which is actually a good thing--I love spy stories, even if they require a healthy dose of suspension of belief. However, the whole plot was set off by "visions" that both the main character and her mother were getting, in which the mother learned things that put the family in danger, forcing them to flee from USSR to the United States. The visions were basically a convient plot device that were never really explained, and were kin...more
I absolutely love the title of this book-I think it's clever and it is one that stuck with me long after I had first read the synopsis of this book. I wish that the book had lived up to its clever title. I think that the story had a promising start--we get to see what life was like for one of the privileged few in Soviet-era Russia. That lifestyle is quickly disrupted when Marina's mother goes missing. Marina and her father are forced to flee the country and end up hiding out in Brooklyn. Marina...more
Review originally published at

Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy has a terrific premise: 17-year-old ballerina Marina Dukovskaya is an up and coming ballerina in Moscow. Her mother, Svetlana Dukovskaya is one of Russia's prima donnas, and although past her prime, she is still very much in the spotlight. But one day Sveta disappears, taken by the KGB, and Marina and her father must flee to America. This book is full of ballet, the KGB, the Cold War, mobsters, fugitives, interna...more
I've never read a YA novel with quite this combination of elements: Cold War spy intrigue! Russian ballerinas! Brighton Beach! Mafia! Precognitions! The novel is best at creating Marina's no-bs voice, and the particular moment in time in 1980s Russia/NYC. It is not as successful at creating the plot, which gets murky even for a spy novel. Still, I enjoyed it, especially the moments where she reflects on the differences between Russia and the US, both good and bad.
This review originally appeared on my blog,


DANCER, DAUGHTER, TRAITOR, SPY is a book I was excited about. There aren’t many YA books that have non-American main characters, so to have a book about a Russian girl, and a ballerina at that -- well, it seemed like a winning combo for me.

The book starts out with Marina in the Soviet Union, at a ballet class. Her mother, a famous dancer herself, is about to leave on a cultural trip to the United States. But when Marina returns home, she l...more
Marina is a teenager dancing in the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow. She is the daughter of Sveta, Bolshoi's prima ballerina. Both Sveta and Marina have "spells" that allow them to see things. This leads Sveta to be obsessed with sharing this state secret. Then, she suddenly disappears. Marina and her father escape Moscow to Brooklyn, New York and Marina has to begin her life anew. Marina's ballet helps her begin to assimilate to America, but it is very difficult. It makes it more diffi...more
ok, so there's a lot going on in this book: a bit of ballet, lots of spy intrigue, cold war and russian history/germ warfare conspiracy, lots of musical references, russian mobsters, visions of the past and future, first love, missing and dead people, phew! And for the most part it worked for me. Marina is a private & reserved girl. She's not shy but she doesn't share as a default, and she's in a place where she can't trust anyone and trying to process a lot of traumatic things, which transl...more
I was quickly intrigued by the 1982 Russian setting and found the book hard to put down. I enjoy spy novels but often find them too bogged down in historical/government details. This one is all about the characters (who Marina can trust?) and driven by the mysterious disappearance of her mother and the lengths to which people/governments might go to find or obscure the truth.

This will be easy to recommend to teen girls. I actually think boys would enjoy it, too, although that would not be as eas...more
This book was a real mixed bag. I liked the author's writing style and her knowledge of Russia and ballet were a real plus. Ben and Marya's relationship was authentic, and Sergei's real involvement in the plot was a nice twist. However, Marya's "visions" were a bit too confusing and some of them didn't even come true, so what was the point? Also, the denouement was kind of a let down (not to mention it didn't make any sense), which is ironic considering the character basically said as much in th...more
Source: Received an e-ARC from the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

So many thoughts! This caught my attention due to its title and its kind of similarity to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (as the publisher synopsis references John le Carre, I suspect that is not unintentional). Additionally the cover is quite striking with its vivid pops of color (pink and yellow is combination I am loving this summer). And my third reason, like I need a third reason after the intrigui...more
Mrs. Kenyon
The Cold War is still raging as Marina trains to become a ballerina in the Soviet Union. She knows it is possible, because her mother, Sveta, is the Soviet Union’s prima ballerina. Unfortunately, her mother has the gift of sight and when she attempts to expose a terrible state secret she disappears. Marina and her father flee to Brooklyn and she wants to reestablish herself as a ballerina by attending Juilliard. She is assigned a partner named Sergei, and her father believes he will be their con...more
Ali (GingerRead)
Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy has many great elements. Intrigue, paranoia, deception and a little romance for balance. I'm not, however, sure that it will find its target audience in the young adult world.

The story takes place in the 1980's, during the Cold War. I am barely old enough to remember much about the time period and I imagine some of the details at the beginning of the book may make for a less than interesting read for a younger audience. Beyond the Cold War aspect is the cultural as...more
An intriguing, high-stakes thriller with just a touch of the supernatural, DANCER DAUGHTER TRAITOR SPY satisfactorily blends Soviet politics with a keen insight into the individuals living under them.

Kiem's writing style is lovely: she depicts both the harshness of the USSR and outer-borough Brooklyn alongside the beauty and joy that Marina takes in music and dancing. I was also impressed by the deft way she handled the language barrier upon Marina's arrival in Brooklyn.

While I was intrigued by...more
"Marina is born of privilege. Her mother, Sveta, is the Soviet Union's prima ballerina: an international star handpicked by the regime. But Sveta is afflicted with a mysterious second sight and becomes obsessed with exposing a horrific state secret. Then she disappears. Fearing for their lives, Marina and her father defect to Brooklyn. Marina struggles to reestablish herself as a dancer at Juilliard. But her enigmatic partner, Sergei, makes concentration almost impossible, as does the fact that...more
I received this book as an advance copy and at first I was not sure if I was going to like it. Once I got through the first few chapters I began to enjoy the writing. The story is told from the view of Marina a Russian up and coming ballerina. Her mother is a prima ballerina and her father is a scientist. She has led a privileged life and does not understand all the politics of the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Politics and intrigue are thrust upon her when her mother goes missing and she an...more
Christianna Marks
You can read this and many other reviews on my YA book blog The White Unicorn!

This book seriously snuck up on me. To be honest, I picked it up because my dad always told us that our mom had been a Russian ballerina spy (which couldn't be further from the truth) and I thought it was funny that that's was what this book was about. So, I requested it, and I couldn't be happier that I did. It wasn't anything like what I thought it was going to be, but it was so much better. Sure this book wasn't per...more
Red Letter
Definitely a YA with crossover appeal and a unique story to tell. A couple of our readers wanted more, but the overall verdict is it’s a tight and fun thriller.

Here's a peek at what our reviewers had to say:

JoLee "This is a slim tome, tallying just 288 pages, and I really it was longer so that we could have more of all that great stuff." Grade: B

Lori "Let me first say that if you pick up Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy because you like books about ballet and dancing, put it back down. The ballet...more
Marathon County Public Library MCPL
Marina's mother, Sveta, is the Soviet Union's star ballerina in 1986. When Sveta has visions of a horrific USSR secret, she mysteriously goes missing. Marina and her father flee to Brooklyn to escape the KGB, the Soviet Union's secret police. Marina and her father must adapt to life in Brooklyn without Sveta, but Marina's father can't let her disappearance go. He gets mixed up in the Russian mob in an effort to get Sveta back to their family in the United States. Marina finds herself caught up i...more
Narrated in Marina’s voice, the story starts quickly, and manages to introduce Marina and her curious “ability” quite effectively. Not only has she inherited her mother’s ballet talent, she also has similar ‘spells’ where she is able to see events, present and past.

Moscow, in fact the whole of the USSR is in a holding pattern because of Brezhnev’s death: Marina’s mother has disappeared (not entirely uncommon) but her father is curiously circumspect and anxious. When they learn that Sveta is in...more
Interesting idea, but poorly conceived and very confusing.

Major problems: teens today have no real idea about the Cold War and what that was like, much less how it was behind the Iron Curtain. Kiem doesn't do a great job showing us how regulated the society was, how everyone spied on each other, and how easy it was for people to disappear. Even the funeral scenes don't really convey how the Soviet population (as well as the rest of the world) studied very carefully where people were placed and w...more
The book started off with a bang. The 1980s time period with the Cold War intrigue was a unique setting and gave this book a little something different in the packed teen spy genre. Marya’s skill at ballet and passion for music were fantastic plot devices. I was immediately pulled into the story – all the Soviet-American drama having me longing to rewatch White Nights with Gregory Hines and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

But, from the beginning, I felt like the clairvoyance story bits were just kind of tos...more
2.5 stars on a Goodreads scale -- it was just okay but I kinda liked it? Killer cover, clever title. Amazing and unexpected concept, too, for a YA novel.

As others have noted, it kind of went off the rails there in the middle. The story jumped around without giving enough detail about anything, and instead of being intrigued or feeling like it was establishing an atmosphere of paranoia I just felt confused and disinterested.

Marina's visions just muddled things further -- there wasn't really any n...more
Cold War era spy book....yes please!

In so many ways this book was a great read. Living a privileged life in Russia as the daughter of a top ballerina (cultural ambassador) and a top ballerina herself, the main character's world collapses when her mother is taken by the KBG. Fleeing to the US with her father she tries to make a new life for herself. But, her father and uncle's attempts to get her mother back gain the attention of the CIA, the FBI, and the Russian mob.

There was so much good about...more
"Life is not sugar and death is not tea. And that is all that is left after me...."

Wow, what a different kind of tale. A little mystery, a little espionage and a lot of trying to play catch up as the story races on and you are left wondering what on earth is going on!

Marina/Marya was an interesting character. At first, I had a tough time getting into her story or understanding her an dher world. But, after Part I, I wasn't worried anymore. I was swept up in her story and her time. Her dad's spea...more
I gave this a solid 75 pages before deciding to call it quits.

The premise is fascinating. The time period and setting are, as well. But unfortunately, Kiem never gives readers the real gravity of the situation in Russia during 1982. We get names and places. We get bits and tips of what is going on, but it's told to us as backstory, AS HISTORY. It's not told to us as part of the character's story or her existence.

I lack the historical knowledge of the Cold War, despite having taken a number of h...more
Kim McGee
Imagine your mother is a principal dancer for the Bolshoi Ballet and you are a dancer as well. Things are going great and you are well in the running to make the top spot on the corps but then you are told your mother has had a breakdown and has disappeared. You and your dad must make a run and get out of the country to the United States, where everything you have grown up believing is different. Still a dancer, you begin to worry about your new partner, your dad's involvement with the Russian M...more
I loved the two settings: Moscow and Brighton Beach. But this book was a little slow going for me. I felt like it took some time to get the gears going. I kept waiting for the clairvoyant thing to take on some real weight but, in the end, felt like it could have been deleted from the story and the story would be the same. Since Marina (and her mother) are ballerinas I really hoped for more from that world. We got some in the beginning, in Moscow, and I thought that was going to pick up in the St...more
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Elizabeth Kiem is a writer of fiction, non-fiction and poetry.

She has worked as a journalist for Reuters, NPR, and CNN and as a communications consultant for Unicef.

She has lived in Brooklyn for more than 15 years. Before that she lived in Moscow as it entered a new era.

Twenty years out of pointe shoes, she dances salsa and swing ... but she still has dreams on toe. They're every bit as goo...more
More about Elizabeth Kiem...
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