Saturday, January 21, 2023

The Lost Year

Marsh, Katherine. The Lost Year
January 17, 2023 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Matthew is cooped up during the beginning of the COVID pandemic in 2020, and his mother's grandmother, whom they call GG, has moved in with them. She's 100, and the mother is very concerned about her health. Mattie's father is stuck in Paris, and his mother is super busy with work. He spends a lot of time playing video games, but when his mother takes these away, he is stuck helping GG organize her belongings. Mattie slowly learns more of her story of surviving the 1930s in Ukraine. We go back and forth from his perspective and that of three cousins; Mila, whose father is very involved in politics and supports the government in their attempts to exterminate the kulaks; Nadiya, who shows up at Mila's door but is sent away by Mila's father, despire her near death condition, and Helen, whose family is living in the US. Mila is worried about her cousin, but knows she can't argue with her father or Dasha, the housekeeper, to keep her there, so asks her piano teacher to take her cousin in. Helen has read in the news that the famine in Ukraine isn't that bad, but has heard from many friends and relatives that this is not the case. She tries to assemble interviews and let the newspaper know what is really going on. She and her father, who has some health issues and isn't able to work, try to get Nadiya out of the country. Nadiya's health slowly improves, but Mila's family is eventually found out. Her father is arrested, and Mila ends up in the same orphange where Nadiya is living. They hear from Helen's family, but there are complications. Years later, Mattie learns the truth about his great grandmother's identity, and realizes that dealing with COVID lockdowns and missing his father isn't as bad as dealing with the Holodomor. 
Strengths: It was interesting to see cousins whose lives were so very different. Given the political upheaval at the time, it is very realistic that the families had such different experiences. Seeing someone from the hard hit country, someone who took advantage of being in the government's good grades, and someone who chose to flee as very enlightening. The intersection of the characters is done in a realistic way, and I'm sure there are many families in the US who tried very hard to get relatives from Ukraine to the US. There is just enough detail about what was going on to be intriguing, but wasn't overly descriptive. The angle with Helen trying to raise awareness in the US was interesting, and the twist with GG's identity was interesting.
Weaknesses: I could have done without the chapters from Mattie's point of view. I definitely see why the author chose to do this, but I would rather have learned more about Nadiya's terrible back story that is mentioned but not really described. 
What I really think: This is a good title for readers who have been fascinated by Skrypuch's Winterkill and want to know more about this horrible chapter in Ukranian history. Of course, I have to say that I am finding it very hard to be sympathetic to Russia, although it's clear that the government and political leaders are the ones who were and are more evil, and average citizens may not know much about what is going on. This did not help me be more sympathetic!
 Ms. Yingling

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