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Mannequin Girl

3.26  ·  Rating details ·  262 ratings  ·  61 reviews
A moving coming-of-age story in the tradition of A Separate Peace, Prep, and Skippy Dies.

Seven-year-old Kat Knopman worships her parents, temperamental Anechka and soft-hearted, absent-minded Misha. Young Jewish intellectuals, they teach at a Moscow school and dabble in political radicalism. Kat, about to start first grade at the same school, sees herself as their heir and
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published March 17th 2014 by W. W. Norton Company
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Showing 1-30
3.26  · 
Rating details
 ·  262 ratings  ·  61 reviews

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Beata Bowen
Apr 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014, fiction
You may think that this book is about a girl, who grows up in the Soviet Union and has to wear a brace for her scoliosis. But it's really more a book about her parents. The beautiful and restless (and most likely bipolar) Anechka and the intellectual and passive Misha (who's also a huge enabler). They're both teachers and if that doesn't sound glamorous, then you weren't raised in the Eastern Bloc before the fall of communism.

Misha and Anechka are the Brad and Angelina of academia. They're char
Apr 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
My Review:
WW Norton|March 18, 2014|Hardcover|ISBN: 978-0-393-06928-0
"A perfect little figure," he says. "Our mannequin girl." She knows who mannequin girls are. They are in her grandmother's Working Woman magazines, modeling flouncy dresses and berets. "Bend," he tells her, and she does, so pliant, so obedient."
Growing up in Soviet Russia, Kat Knopman worships her parents, tempermental Anechka and soft-hearted, absent-minded, Misha. Young Jewish intellectuals, they teach literature at a Moscow
Evanston Public  Library
In Russia, a mannequin girl is a model on the cover of a magazine. Kat wants nothing more than to be her parents' mannequin girl, perfect, smart, flawless, noticed. Unfortunately, Kat has a crooked spine, forcing her adored parents to enroll her in a therapeutic boarding school for children with differing degrees of spinal malformations. The teachers vary in kindness, prejudice and caring as do the students. When Kat's parents, mildly dissident teachers, are hired at the school a few years after ...more
Jul 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
A story about a 6 year old Russian Jewish girl about to start school who is suddenly diagnosed with scoliosis. Instead of her planned life course, she goes to a treatment-oriented boarding school. The book follows her through to age 14, skipping several years here and there, showing her complex relationships with her family and friends and the treatments she endures. A coming of age story.
Patricia Geller
May 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
A book unlike any other I have read about a young Jewish Russian girl growning up in a back brace, with parents who neglect her in their "glamour" and narcissism. Her story of coming of age rings so true and is wonderfully told.
May 07, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: never-finished
Nope. I ain't got time for this MFA nonsense. I just really, really dislike literary floof. So many words but so little actual fucking story.
"A moment comes, Kat thinks. A moment came. You're a glitch in a plan, an unfortunate error, and even your parents don't like who you've become. And once this knowledge sinks in, nothing else out there can scare you." [p.247]

"Except, Kat knows, it won't happen. Because being exceptional is nothing but a trap. It makes you obsessed with your significance, and also, it riddles you with doubt. You do harsh things when you believe yourself one of a kind. You push away those who love you and sneer at
My review appears on New York Journal of Books. Read that review first. Additional remarks that appeared in a different and now defunct publication begin with the next paragraph.

Jewish books: Ellen Litman's Mannequin Girl describes childhood in 1980s Moscow

To those of us who participated in rallies and other activities in the 1970s and 1980s on behalf of the right of Jews living in the Soviet Union to emigrate the complete lack of Jewish ritual observance in the family life of Kat Knopman and he
Feb 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Received an advanced copy from GoodReads or someone--I entered to win because it was compared to A Separate Peace and Prep, two books I really enjoyed--and I was not disappointed--the comparison was accurate.

I grew up in the 1970's / 1980's and always heard about the shortages and how challenging life was in Russia. This is what made this book intriguing to me.

Litman makes Kat and her family come alive on the page. It's easy to get involved--the writing flows. Kat's life would have been much di
Apr 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
I initially read this book because there are very few coming of age stories where the main character has scoliosis. Believe me, I was happy that I wasn't treated for my scoliosis in 1980's Russia. This was so much more than a coming of age book though and it was so interesting to read about being Jewish in Moscow at this time. A great read. Though I think it is marketed as YA (not sure), it was in with my library's new adult books. I definitely think it is more adult in content.
Mar 28, 2014 rated it liked it
This is a coming of age story about Kat, who has scoliosis and lives in 1980s Russia. She goes to a special school because of her condition. Were there really that many kids with scoliosis issues? Despite myself, I want to know what happens to the characters after the story ends, because much is left up in the air.
Jul 03, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015, russia, ya-books, fiction
It wanted to be an epic like Doctor Zhivago or Anna Karenina, but it was more of a review or an abridged book. The pace was fast and years slipped by. The characters aged, but with little change. I couldn't sink into plot, or relish in characterization. That said, it was short and sweet and had interesting glimpses of 1980s Russia.
Dec 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
wasn't sure what to expect with this book but got to say it was one of the better books I have read in a while. Kudos to the author. I will be recommending this book to all my friends!
Feb 05, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I received this book as a GR first reads giveaway win, and from the description given I was immediately intrigued. Unfortunately, the book fell a bit flat to me. I liked it, and found many aspects of the storyline interesting but I didn't love it. I never got emotionally attached to any of the characters even though I really wanted to. Litman has created interesting characters, but somehow the emotional weight isn't there. I hate to say that I was never even attached to Kat, the main character, ...more
Feb 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
I picked this book up off the new release shelf at my library based solely on the cover which usually people would tell you not to do but in this case worked out quite well for me.

Kat is a little girl of two school teacher parents who are deeply in love and deeply loved by their students. She looked forward to the day that she can go to the same school that they teach at and take part in the conversations with their beloved crowd. Her first year of school is about to start, she got a new brown s
May 07, 2014 rated it it was ok
Growing up in Soviet Russia isn’t easy for anyone, and Kat Knopman is no exception. At a young age, Kat appears to have great promise: she is the exceptionally intelligent daughter of two intelligent educators.

But everything changes when Kat goes for her physical exam before entering first grade. She is diagnosed with rapidly progressing scoliosis, and all of her family’s plans quickly change.

Kat goes to a special school with children just like her. She wears the cage-like brace that we all ass
May 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: family-saga, novels
A weirdly intense ugly duckling story that unfurls mostly inside a coed Moscow school for children with orthopedic problems narrated by (what else) a precociously literate Jewish girl whose charismatic parents are activist literature teachers. Kat goes from pretty to ugly to pretty as she loses her innocence about her parents and finally, it seems, finds a path for herself. The story hits home because the deformed children are no different from stand-outs one can remember, in my case, the now ce ...more
Jul 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
It wasn't what I expected. It is about Kat Knopman. The novel begins when she is a child getting ready for a bright future when during a routine physical she is found to have scoliosis. Her bright future is curtailed and a perfectly average little girl is now found to have a moderate disability. This affects her brilliant pedagogical parents greatly who now do not know how to handle this change in their plans for their and her future. This all takes place a few decades earlier in Russia. There i ...more
A recent GR giveaways win and my travel companion. I always love to take a book (or two or three or ten) along with me on my travels. It helps keep me happily distracted while I'm cooped up in close quarters with my fellow bus or plane passengers.

Mannequin Girl is broken up into 3 parts:

Part I: 1980
Part II: 1986
Part III: 1988

While reading, I kept having to remind myself that Kat Knopman was just a girl. Something about the dialogue didn't ring true for me. These were really adults wrapped up in
Apr 02, 2014 rated it it was ok
Disappointing. Very disappointing.

When I think of scoliosis and coming-of-age, my mind (because I'm old) goes to Judy Blume's Deenie. This book, set in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, doesn't replace that association. If anything, there's less here about both the scoliosis and about life in Moscow than there should be. For younger readers, those who came of age after the wall fell and Yeltsin took over, there are things that just won't make sense, like the endless lines for things or the special
Sep 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Slow and awkward beginning to this story of Kat, a young Russian girl, as she enters 1st grade in a special school for children with scoliosis or other diseases. She dreams of being a mannequin girl, a star in the theatre and seeks love, attention and acceptance from her parents, 2 arts teachers who seem oblivious to her. The one part that fascinated me was how bitter and mean she could be; from insecurity? Feeling above or better than others, too special to care? As i read, i became more intere ...more
Mar 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Mannequin Girl is a particular and sweetly stubborn novel, much like many of its main characters. Set in Russia throughout the 1980s, Kat is a little girl trying to grow up with scoliosis, high expectations, flighty and often-lost parents, in the Soviet era. It manages to be beautiful and sad, funny and awkward, all at the same time. Those who enjoy tales of growing up, or like imagining what it might be like to have lived in Soviet Russia would find this book particular interesting. Truly the f ...more
Jan 09, 2014 rated it it was ok
You know how sometimes you're reading a book, and you get halfway (or so) through it, and you realize that you're not particularly enjoying it because you don't like any of the characters and it's a pervasively unhappy book that you know isn't going to get any happier, but you're halfway through it already, and that's too far to give up, so you just keep slogging through it until you finally, doggedly, reach the end a month later? And then it is over, and you're not glad you read it, you're just ...more
Jun 02, 2014 rated it liked it
More of a 3.5. At the beginning, in part 1, it was a bit boring to me. In part 2, it got a little more interesting but i found Kat's relationship with her mother and her mother more specifically, repetitive. Though, in part 3, REALLY enjoyed it. Kat is a character that can't be defined so i really liked her. I also liked (somewhat of a spoiler) that as much as i wanted her to become an actress like her parents were finally praising her to be, we finally got an idea of who she is, someone that's ...more
Carol Ann
Jul 07, 2014 rated it liked it
First, let me say that I enjoyed Litman's writing style. Second, I wanted to love this book more than I did. The first half of the story really had me, but the way the characters evolved towards the middle and end, the story lost some focus.
Litman will be on my "to read" list going forward though because I think her narrative was terrific and capturing the Soviet Union of the 1980s was very poignant.
Michael Norwitz
This almost comes across as a teen novel: a Russian Jewish girl is diagnosed with scoliosis at the age of six. Her next several years of treatment and schooling and relationships are detailed. The author has a very basic writing style, almost style-less but proficient enough to keep me reading. Nevertheless, I found almost all the characters (including the protagonist) more irritating than anything else.
Carolyn Simmons
Oct 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
It started out very good, lagged a bit in the middle, but held my interest enough so that I hung in there and finished it. There were times when I thought what the characters said was not all that realistic. I still wonder "were or are there really schools like this were students lay down during class?"

I think the goal of the author was to show how most of us survive our childhoods and thrive no matter what hardships we have had.
Mar 21, 2014 rated it liked it
I liked it. Some of the appeal of this odd little novel is the setting. I think I can safely say I’ve never read another book set in a Moscow boarding school for scoliosis and other spinal deformity students. Although this is a not-much-happens kind of book, there is satisfactory self-examination and growth in the characters as their quirky little lives progress in their quirky little ways. If you like this book, try “A Short History of Tractors in the Ukraine” and “Midnight in Odessa.”
Athena Dupont
Jul 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
Throughout childhood, that uncertain period in life when most of us are plagued by the fear of being different, alone, and flawed, imagine the world around you agreeing. As Kat tries to find her path through post-war Russia, a boarding school for deformed youth, and dysfunctional family, her thoughts are at times heartbreaking, deplorable, or both, but always candid and often relatable. Here is a striking and beautiful coming-of-age journey.
Laura Hoyler
Jun 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
This was a type of story I had not really read before, but it was interesting, and I definitely got into all the characters!
Set in Russia in the 1980s.....Kat is about the same age I was during that time, so it was also interesting to see how her life as a Russian Jewish girl compared to my life in America.
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Mansfield Public ...: Review > Mannequin Girl 1 4 Aug 02, 2014 07:12PM  
Mansfield Public ...: The"Mannequin Girl" review by Toni Masciangioli 1 3 Jun 28, 2014 06:12PM  
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Ellen Litman's first book, The Last Chicken in America, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. A native of Moscow, she teaches writing at the University of Connecticut and lives in Mansfield.
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