Terri's Reviews > Breaking Stalin's Nose

Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene Yelchin
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's review
May 28, 2012

really liked it

"Between Shades of Grey" by Ruta Sepetys is one of my favorite reads of the past year or so. I loved that it taught the reader about an aspect of the World II era that most know little about. At the same time that Hitler was executing millions in Eastern Europe, Stalin was responsible for the deaths of approximately 20 million individuals in Russia. "Breaking Stalin's Nose," a Newbery Honor book by Eugene Velchin, looks at this time in Russian history. Velchin, having been raised in Russia by a father who lived through Stalin's reign, attempts through "Breaking Stailn's Nose," to deal with the fear with which he grew up.

Young Sasha Zaichek has lost his mother (he does not know the truth of her death)and lives with his father in a communal home in Russia under Stalin's reign. His father is a "hero" in Stalin's State Security secret police. Sahsa's greatest desire is to become a member of the Young Soviet Pioneers, the first step in following in his father's footsteps and becoming a Communist. The day before he is to become a Pioneer, his father is arrested by members of his own secret police. This is only the beginning of Sasha's troubles. For instance, at school the next day, he breaks the nose on the statue of Stalin that resides in the school hallway. Everything that transpires over the next twenty-four hours helps him see the world anew.

There were many things that I enjoyed about "Breaking Stalin's Nose." Mostly, I enjoyed Sasha's viewpoint. He is an innocent young boy who has been indoctrinated by those around him. He has been led around by the nose, so to speak, and does not see the truth in many things around him. As he begins to think for himself, he starts to see the truth in the people and events that occur. Sasha's viewpoint reminded me of the main character in "The Book Thief" by Marcus Zusak. The reader sees the truth of horrific situations and understands what is really happening, as the narrator is trying to piece things together. I also liked the length and the pacing of the book (I easily read this in one sitting). Though the black and white pencil drawings don't tell the story in and of themselves, they do add much in terms of establishing mood and setting.

What I didn't like about the book was that it seemed to be aimed at children in about grades three to five (based on length and the age of the narrator). I am not sure that a reader this age would have enough experience and maturity and context to understand the seriousness and complexity of the real life events, as well as those of the characters in this fictional work. The symbolism and fantasy of the talking nose element toward the end of the book was an odd twist and would probably be above the heads of most kids in this age group. In the hands of a good teacher and smart kids, however, this book could be a winner. Paired with books like "Between Shades of Gray" and "The Book Thief," this could be even more powerful! As an adult, I found the book very moving and generally beautifully written.

Highly recommended for an older audience - maybe grade seven and up.

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