Barrow, Randi. Finding Zasha
1 January 2013, Scholastic Press
Copy from YA Books Central and Reviewed there.
This prequel to Saving Zasha recounts the story of Ivan, who is living in an apartment in Leningrad with his mother. When the city is bombed, a neighbor comes to live with them, and Auntie, who has lived through the revolution, shows Ivan many tricks that he needs to survive. She has hoarded food under floorboards, has rubles stuffed into table legs, and is unemotional about burning her furniture and books for fuel when times get tough. When Ivan's mother's job in a factory gets moved to another city, Ivan and Auntie head off to his Uncle Boris' cabin. After a harrowing journey, which involved walking six miles over a frozen lake when the truck they are in breaks down as well as a run in with partisans, Ivan decides to stay with Auntie at her relative's house. Galina knows that danger is coming, but is glad of having Ivan's help. Most of the small neighborhood is deserted, with residents heading off to Moscow, but the remaining people are trying to fight the Nazis. When the local commander, Axel Recht, sees Ivan play the concertina, he asks Ivan to come live at the base. Ivan agrees because he can spy on the Germans there, and also because he is worried for two German Shepherd puppies, Zasha and Thor. He wants to help them escape for their own safety, and also so that the partisans can use them instead of the Nazis. This, of course, is fraught with danger, but Ivan manages to break free of the Nazis and live through the war without bringing himself to their attention. Axel Recht, however, is a horrible man bent on revenge, and he is bound and determined to find Ivan and the dogs.
Strengths: I liked the first book, but am very glad that this came out. It is filled with all of the excitement that Saving Zasha could have used. Survival in Leningrad, a perilous journey away from the city, dealing with the Nazis and eventually escaping them-- excellent stuff. Now that we know Zasha's backstory, reading about what happens to her after the war makes a lot more sense. The covers of both of these are both beautiful and scary at the same time!
Weaknesses: Students might not know enough about the Russian involvement in WWII to understand what is going on and should be instructed to read the notes at the back first.
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