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Vaclav and Lena

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  5,020 ratings  ·  860 reviews
In Vaclav & Lena Haley Tanner has created two unforgettable young protagonists who evoke the joy, the confusion, and the passion of having a profound, everlasting connection with someone else.

Vaclav and Lena seem destined for each other. They meet as children in an ESL class in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Vaclav is precocious and verbal. Lena, struggling with English, ta
Hardcover, 292 pages
Published May 17th 2011 by The Dial Press (first published 2011)
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3.66  · 
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 ·  5,020 ratings  ·  860 reviews

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Elena Kruglyak
Sep 29, 2011 rated it it was ok
Wow! Where do I begin? I was born in the former Soviet Union and grew up in Brooklyn, albeit not on Brighton Beach, but then neither did Vaclav and Lena. That area is called Sheepshead Bay, but it almost seems that the author couldn't resist throwing in yet another cliche of the Russian immigrant experience. The book is full of them - a vodka swilling father, an obese wart covered mother, chain-smoking strippers, greasy borscht, tea and Russian television. I was half expecting a balalaika playin ...more
Feb 20, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012, fiction
I think this is the kind of book that people (critics) who know nothing about Russia, Russian culture or Russian immigrant communities in the United States will absolutely love, and that people who know anything about those subjects will approach with a more critical eye. Because I really WANTED to like this book, but I kept trying to figure out why Ms. Tanner wrote about something she was clearly so unfamiliar with (soooooo many cliches about Russian immigrants, sooooo many things that just did ...more
Jessie  (Ageless Pages Reviews)
Read This Review & More Like It On Ageless Pages Reviews!

This was a magical experience for me - one that was completely charming but not without depth or darker themes. It's a light and breezy read with an innocent tone for the most part - a (sadly) short-ish book that can easily be completed in a day but be warned; this novel about young love made my bitter old heart grow three sizes when I finished it. Vaclav & Lena is, at the heart of everything, a novel really all about love. Love be
Apr 01, 2012 rated it liked it
To be honest I was expecting to give this a two most of the way through, but in the end I decided it was a decent story despite some distracting flaws. I was appreciative of the fact that the central "mystery" was solved in the end as opposed to being left unsolved, and that the discovery of the explanation was natural and believable.

Vaclav and Lena are two children of Russian immigrants, aged nine or ten when the story opens. Vaclav comes from an intact if not entirely happy home with a big-hea
Mar 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook
3.5 Stars rounded up to 4 simply because the narrator was that good...

I listened to this on audio and from the very first disc, I was hooked. The narrator did a phenomal job of translating a young kinship between Russian Americans. Vaclav and Lena become fast friends as they meet in Brighton Beach, a Russian community within Brooklyn. They are in ESL classes together learning English, and quickly form a connection while still understanding the world around them. Vaclav aspires to be the next Har
Jun 06, 2011 rated it did not like it
I'm a Russian immigrant, so when I heard about this book, I ran out and bought it. What a major and ignorant disappointment this book proved to be. This in no way speaks to the Russian immigrant experience. I particularly hated the parts that talked about the difficulties with learning English. While it is indeed hard for older people, children learn languages fast. I remember learning English in about two months at the age of six. It wasn't that hard.

I know many writers want to move beyond the
Haley Tanner definitely shows some real potential here, as she has written with a lot of insight as well as prose that is beautiful at times, with the power to evoke great emotion, while painting a picturesque world for the two young protagonists. I really felt their lostness, both figuratively and literally, emotionally and physically. Even minor characters were well developed. The mother, Raisa, was, admittedly, a caricature, but I loved her for it nevertheless. The entire story was whimsical, ...more
Nov 16, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommended to Chrissie by: Daisy
I wasn't sure I was going to read this book. I thought it was a young adult book. In some ways it is; it deals with young adults and their search for what will determine their future choices in life. Having completed the book I feel the primary audience is not just young adults. Maybe this is one of those special books that can be read by everyone. It surprised me. The topics covered expanded as the novel continued. And I loved the ending, when I read it. It tied in perfectly with other themes p ...more
Feb 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is a pretty beautiful book. It's a realistic fairy tale. The language is gorgeous in a direct and poetic way. The sentiment is accessible and welcoming. The story is bittersweet, with magic and secrets and truths all over the place. I'm so glad I read this.

Each night that Ekaterina does not come for Lena, each time that Ekaterina shows that she is irresponsible, is untrustworthy, is unloving, Rasia is reassured that she has a right to love Lena as much as she does, which is very much. p. 89
May 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
Vaclav & Lena is a book to (forgive the word) cherish. It's all the secrets we keep growing up; it's what it's like to be a kid alone; what it's like, how exciting, to be a kid finally with a best friend; what it's like, later, to fall in love. It's all those things *exactly*. The hope, the earnestness, the anxiety, the wonder, *exactly*.

The characters are so real and complex they're practically in the room with you, but Vaclav's earnestness and enthusiasm and Lena's imagination and inner t
Mar 22, 2015 rated it it was ok
I set myself up for dissatisfaction because I went into this book expecting so much. I work for a religious school and have two “assistants”, twin boys who are the sons of Russian immigrants. I wanted a peak into their lives.

The first part of the story is told when Vaclav and Lena are 10 and 11 years old. The voice used by Tanner was just wrong. It “sounded” more like the voice of a 4 or 5 year old, in the case of Vaclav especially. I know these children used English as their second language an
Feb 05, 2012 rated it liked it
I originally heard about this book on NPR, when it was recommended by the librarian Nancy Pearl. The theme was "books with a really interesting character". I really wanted to like the book, especially after I realized I had read a very poignant article and watched a video on The New York Times site about the author and her dying husband.
The story follows 2 Russian immigrant children in New York City who meet when they are five and become fast friends. The girl, Lena, mysteriously ( to Vaclav an
Vaclav and Lena is the closest I could get to magic. It's flawed and it lags in places and sometimes, the prose is condensed into poetry too much for it to make sense pronto. But it's painful and pretty and it makes sense to be that way.

The novel starts with a scene between the titular characters, Vaclav and Lena, two Russian children stuck in a land not their own with a language they barely have a grasp of. It would be cliched to use the word "pure" to describe their relationship, but it was.
Nov 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Ever on a quest to find books that speak to my life and my situation, I originally started reading this book with no real expectations, but intrigued by the subject matter of two Russian immigrants who meet, aged 10, in their ESL classes.

So far, so saccharine. However, whilst arguably a coming-of-age novel, this book had a dark underbelly I didn't expect - and was an altogether stronger work as a result of that.

I am normally loath to start talking about language in a review, but Tanner's langua
May 18, 2011 rated it it was ok
The back of this book sounded SO good and I still think it's a really good concept. The relationship between Vaclav and Lena was really sweet as children but his blind devotion got a little creepy as they got older. Also, I think a lot of confusion could have been saved if the reader would have been kept in the loop a little more. It basically separates the two all of the sudden and then sort of throws them back together years later without letting us know why they were separated in the first pl ...more
Mar 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
"Vaclav & Lena" by Haley Tanner is a beautiful and poignant novel about love that takes root between two immigrant children in the immigrant community of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn - a love that continues to grow over time. Being immigrants, Vaclav and Lena are the odd outcasts trying to find their voices and their place in the world. While Vaclav aspires to be a world famous magician, Lena is his assistant and his muse. While Vaclav resides in a household where he is loved and pampered by his ...more
Sep 02, 2011 added it
I really liked this novel, although I wasn't sure I would in the end.

In fact, about halfway through, I stopped reading it for awhile because I was so afraid one of the lead characters would, or even "must", end up dying before it ended.

When I picked it up again, I read right through to the end, just as I had the first half.

It really is a compelling story of two "outsider" children who discover each other and cling to each other. One of them, Vaclav, has two parents who love him, if awkward in
J.M. Cornwell
Jul 10, 2011 rated it liked it
A tale of young love that demonstrates more abuse and control than love.

Vaclav and Lena are friends, both in the same grade and both spend a lot of time together. Lena is shy because of her lack of English around other children and quiet—most of the time. Vaclav lives for magic and his idol is David Copperfield. Lena’s idol is the girl in the fringed gold bikini who is Fredini’s assistant.

Through their younger years, Vaclav and Lena are inseparable, at least until Marina and Christina begin ha
Rhiannon Ryder
Oct 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Sent to me by Random House, and highly recommended by their Canadian director of online marketing, Vaclav & Lena's unique sounding story had me dying to dig in.

From the same country, but two different worlds, young Russian immigrants Vaclav and Lena, become fast friends in Brooklyn. Getting through ESL and homework together, they dream of one day putting on a Magic show on Coney Island. Until the day Lena doesn't come to school, and for the next seven years Vaclav worries over her fate. The
Jul 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing

The 90′s dawn on Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach with hope and sunlight. At least, they do for Vaclav. For the rest of the Russian immigrant community, life isn’t all magic and ponies. His best friend, Lena, for example, lives with her aunt, a woman of questionable employment and morals, in a tiny, rundown apartment that seems to suck the very life out of a girl who should be thriving in the new world. Together, the two save each other from many of life’s perils
Apr 08, 2012 rated it it was ok
Has there ever been a less compelling read??
I would not have read this but alas, book club pick, and so I was forced to dive into the extremely unmagical (despite efforts to the contrary) world of two unappealing Russian children, the titular Vaclav and Lena, the former a would be Houdini and the latter a rather introverted victim of abuse. I tend to despise sweeping tales of epic love, such as the type where they meet at age like six or whatever and are separated for lots of formative and impor
Nov 17, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ooh, but this is such a beautiful, beautiful book.

Vaclav & Lena is a debut novel of Haley Tanner and it tells the story of, of course, Vaclav and Lena. Vaclav and Lena are both Russian immigrants in America. They meet in an ESL class in school and they immediately became best friends. Vaclav is enthralled with magic and he dreams to become a famous magician, so every day, after school, he practices magic tricks,with Lena as his assistant. Of course, every magician has an assistant and Lena c
Anita Pomerantz
Jul 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I loved this debut novel about two children, born of Russian immigrants and living in modern day America. Vaclav and Lena are childhood friends, both Russian, but with extremely different home lives. As children they bond over Vaclav's dream to be a magician. Unfortunately, there is much more going on with Lena than meets the eye, and one day she essentially vanishes from Vaclav's life.

This book seems influenced by so many others to me - - Water for Elephants, The Book Thief, and teensy bit of L
Gail Cooke
Jun 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Affecting, poignant, unforgettable all describe Haley Tanner's wonderful debut novel VACLAV & LENA. One would be hard-pressed to think of anyone who would not be touched by her story, especially when read by two such talented actors as Kirby Heyborne and Rebecca Lowman.

A gifted and versatile performer Heyborne has received acclaim for not only his acting but his music (four solo albums) and his comedy. Lowman brings a wealth of stage, film and television experience to her narration. An inim
Jun 09, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved the beginning of this novel that described two outcast children of immigrants befriending each other and planning for a magic show. The author really got inside each character’s head and described in detail what they were thinking and feeling. Sometimes the descriptions and the history was a little much, and eventually I found myself skimming certain paragraphs. The middle was interesting as the reader discovered what the two characters went through while they were apart. But again there ...more
Apr 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Reader's Choice book at the library. I read a random paragraph from the middle and knew I would enjoy this book. I was not disappointed. Especially for a freshman novel, I was very impressed by Tanner. Her characters (even peripheral ones) were vibrant and believable. She didn't overplay the "dark secret", and stayed true to what was most beautiful about this story: the relationship between Vaclav and Lena. Call me old-fashioned, but I like the idea of soulmates, and I appreciated that Vaclav an ...more
Feb 10, 2015 rated it did not like it
This book started out so promising for me. I loved Vaclav. His character is just so likable. He's so genuine, one of those characters you root for. The relationship that really stood out for me in this story was between Vaclav and his mom Rasia. Some of the moments between them really touched my heart. Lena on the other hand was not a very likable character. Even though she had a hard life and I felt bad for her, I just couldn't root for her. I couldn't connect with her like I did with Vaclav. A ...more
Jul 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
4.5 stars. I absolutely loved this book.

I loved the writing, I loved the characters, I loved the childlike innocence, the way the author is so tuned in to what it felt like to be a child, to have a best friend, to be excited about things that maybe nobody else understands, to fall in love. I just thought it was beautiful, all of it.
Jan 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
OMG ! I am LOVING this book. Listening to it in the car. Perfect book to go audio on with the accents and such. Loving it so far!
Apr 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: uno-2019, uno-blue
What is the truth? This books is full of illusions, from magic to the misinformation the characters give each other. I enjoyed this story of immigrants and I also liked that not everything I expected was as I expected it to be. I found the ending to be a bit less than I wanted from the story, but it was also satisfying. I would recommend this as an audiobook as I listened to it and it fit the audio format well. It is a moving story and one I didn't expect to enjoy as much as I did. Vaclav and Le ...more
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2015 Reading Chal...: Vaclav and Lena by Haley Tanner 1 10 Feb 26, 2015 08:18PM  
Ladies' Home Jour...: Let's Talk About: Vaclav & Lena - March 2012 1 16 Mar 14, 2012 02:07PM  

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Haley Tanner was born in New York City (in the Bronx!) and raised on a lovely street in a house her father (most famous as the superhero Astroman, the man who can do anything) built with his own two hands. Haley's mother was named one of Forbes 100 Mothers to Emulate in recognition for her love, support, and understanding during the years that Haley was a Police Dispatcher/Parliamentary Assistant/ ...more
“Lena is sure that other people don't have many selves. She is terrified that she doesn't have a core self, an essential Lena. She feels that she used to but that she lost it along the way, that at some point it became buried, suffocated, and died, because when she looks beneath the chattering of the selves, nothing is there. Maybe the fractured feeling is taking hold because something is dead inside her, or missing.” 9 likes
“Lena's real mom, Emily, knew that this was not the truth, but she also knew that Vaclav was not lying.
Vaclav knew that he was telling the truth.
Lena knew that it was a lie, but she loved it and believed it, like a fairy tale, like a song, like a bedtime story, like a magic trick.
She loved Vaclav until it became the truth and so it was.”
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