Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Review: Vaclav & Lena by Haley Tanner
Released: May 17th 2011
Publisher: The Dial Press
Other places to find the book:
My Rating: 4.5 / 5
Vaclav and Lena are Russian immigrant children growing up in Brooklyn, New York. Throughout the novel, we witness their lives at age five, nine and seventeen. Upon meeting, the two kids instantly became the best of friends. They are both struggling with their English, trying to fit in at school and everyday they work towards their goal of putting on a magic show. For years, they only have each other. Vaclav's mom, Rasia, is tough and keeps a tight reign on her only son, wanting him to achieve his dreams (this is after all the reason she moved to America!). She also knows that Lena does not have the best home life, living with an Aunt who dances, and so everyday Lena is at their house until it is time for bed. When they are nine, Rasia feels she must contact the police and Lena is taken away. But Vaclav can't help but think of Lena everyday and on her 17th birthday, they meet again. We learn what happened to Lena, the impact it had and how she attempts to carry on.
The story begins when they are young and as English is new to them, the narrators voice depicts this. It may come off as awkward at first, but as their grasp of English improves, so does the narrator's. I loved this aspect as it made the story more authentic and reminded me of spending time at my best friends house, with her Polish speaking parents. The mother, Rasia, was so loveable and provides that link between the old Russian world and new America, allowing you to see the world from a unique perspective (why is the rich teenage girl wearing ripped jeans?). She offers quite a few comedic moments!
My heart went out to Vaclav. Ever since he was a little boy, he dreams of becoming a famous magician, with Lena as his assistant. He sees only the good in things, has tunnel vision, and is so innocent. Lena is broken and Vaclav is her rock. He is the best friend everyone needs. When she is gone, he worries about her, but moves on, has a girlfriend and still continues doing what he loves...magic! After Vaclav and Lena meet again, it's like time stood still and he wants things to be as they were seven years ago, but she is not the same and his mom can no longer shield him from Lena's plight. There is not a perfect, happily ever after ending, and as much as I love that, this ending was even better.
A magical debut by Haley Tanner, Vaclav & Lena is a story full of innocent love and hope that will stick with you long after you've turned the last page. This will be one of my favorite reads in 2011! If you enjoyed Gayle Foreman's If I Stay and Where She Went, I think you'd love this one too.