Sunday, April 3, 2016
The Family Romanov No Longer Among The Living (Maybe)
True Story: Eschewing my usual preference for finishing reading my books and writing my post in the wee hours of deadline day, I actually finished my reading in early March and was apparently so self-satisfied that I completely forgot to write anything. So, here I am on Sunday night at the end of spring break staring down a shamefully neglected to-do-list that just had one more thing added to it. Yeah.
On the bright side, however, I think a little distance from both of these books (Matt De La Pena’s The Living and Candace Fleming’s The Family Romanov) was probably a good thing. I enjoyed them both and don’t really have much in the way of critique for either of them. I think they are both as advertised (respectively): a high-concept, action packed adventure ready made for sequels and, probably, a movie and a tightly woven piece of non-fiction built around one of the most compelling - and world changing - series of events in the 20th century. I can envision kids who would love both of them and I can imagine other kids who wouldn’t get past the first few chapters of one while consuming the other.
One thing I’ve grappled with a bit was the degree to which students would be engaged by the historical context of The Family Romanov. It is something I was interested in and I seem to recall having a bit of a working knowledge of this historical period even in junior high, but then, as a child of the cold war era, I would wouldn’t I? The impending destruction of all mankind (The Day After? Rocky III?) was kind of a big thing back in the day. That great global pissing match between the Soviets and the Americans made Russian history a little more relevant in my teen world, perhaps. Fleming’s prose is certainly evocative, however, and I think that while we might not see kids just naturally gravitating to this book, once it was gently thrust into their hands, they would potentially be drawn into the story. I presume that what makes this “a children’s book” is the fact that the author made her prose more accessible, both in diction and length, than a typical doorstop style “adult” history, but she really does do a remarkable job of walking that line between big H history and book that reads like a novel.
All that being said, however, I think I’d still have to go with The Living as my vote to move on. Not a perfect novel by any stretch, and it’s prone to some of the cliches and over simplifications that almost necessarily occur when you write a book for a generic teen audience (when no such thing as the “generic teen” exists) but it is, by any estimation a page turner, that also offers opportunities for thought and, even, introspection. I think kids would enjoy reading it and I think there are some big ideas that you could explore in a classroom discussion, or even, over a soda or coffee or whatever literate teens are drinking these days.