Tuesday, February 2, 2016

What I Read in December 2015 Part V

What I Read in December 2015 Part V ...

Rachel's Secret (Rachel Trilogy #1) by Shelly Sanders --Young Adult Historical fiction

Rachel's Secret (The Rachel Trilogy #1) For Rachel, the village of Kishinev in Russia is not big enough to hold her dreams. While her friends are thinking of romance and marriage, she's more interested in reading and writing. Now Rachel's friend Mikhail is also thinking of romance - with her! She likes Mikhail as a friend but not as a lover and besides, Jews and gentiles can't be together. When Rachel witnesses Mikhail's murder, she believes it was all her fault because someone saw him kiss her. She keeps her secret to herself. Mikhail's friend Sergei wants to get to know Rachel better but he always acts like an idiot whenever she's around. As Mikhail's murder kicks off a wave of anti-Semitic fights, Sergei takes a stand to fight injustice. When something terrible happens, he feels powerless, a feeling Rachel also feels trapped in the middle of it all. After an unspeakable tragedy, Rachel knows the time for telling her secret has finally come. Will anyone believe her, a girl and a Jew? Sergei does and he will fight for her and for justice all he can.

I started this ages ago and put it down. I felt the writing style was too juvenile for the subject matter, the motive for murder was completely stupid and the author let the reader see the murder so who did it and why is never a mystery. After reading the final volume in the trilogy, I was curious enough to return to this book. I found myself interested in Sergei. There's not a lot of plot involving Rachel until the middle of the book. I was surprised the big event happened in the middle and not at the end. The rest was resolution. I found the tragic event absolutely terrible. I have heard about pogroms but I had never actually read one as it happened before. It was completely awful. The writing style is young enough for middle grades but the violence bumps it to young adult level. I especially liked the aftermath and learning how everyone coped and what happened to the various characters.

I didn't really connect with Rachel in this story. She's just beginning to dream of her future but I can identify with the longing to leave her small town and explore the wider world. I also identified with Sergei and his hot temper and fight for justice. I didn't buy the budding romance at all though. Sergei is wrong for Rachel, religion not withstanding. He's too hot tempered and quick to shoot his mouth off. She's a writer and knows to choose her words carefully. There's no real romance in this story, just a quick kiss.

Rachel's Hope (Rachel Trilogy #3) by Shelly Sanders --Young Adult Historical fiction

Rachel's Hope Rachel and her family have finally made it to San Francisco after escaping Russia and staying in Shanghai. Rachel is excited to be in America where she can pursue her dream of becoming a writer. She discovers that life in America is easier for Jews in some ways but more difficult in others. They must work hard and barely seem to get ahead but things begin to look up when Rachel meets Anna, a modern, feminist Jewish-American writer who helps Rachel learn to read and write better in English in exchange for Russian lessons. Anna is going to Russia to cover the plight of the people for American papers and she promises to look up Rachel's friend Sergei. Then the San Francisco earthquake and fire threaten everything Rachel and her family have worked towards. Will she ever get to University and become a writer? Sergei meanwhile has become involved with Russian politics and the socialist workers party. He's friends with Maxim Gorky, the great writer and Revolutionary and the Czar promises liberal reforms. Sergei and his friends know that nothing much has changed and if they don't do something about it, nothing will ever change. His life will never be the same again but hope of seeing Rachel again keeps him going.

The plot of this story was very compelling. I stayed up very very late reading the book to see what would happen. I skimmed a lot of Sergei's sections because I know a bit about what happened in Russia at that time and how it led to the 1917 Revolution and frankly, anarchists and communists don't interest me much. I learned a lot about Jews in San Francisco and I especially liked Rachel's article on the pressures of assimilation. I know a lot about Jews in New York but not much about San Franscisco so I enjoyed the different setting. There is way too much going on in this story though. It could have been split into two or three other books. Sergei's story is a book in and of itself. If the author had based Anna on a real person instead of making her an actual real person, she would also deserve her own novel.

I really identified with Rachel very strongly. I'm not Jewish and I never experienced anything like she did but I do understand her desire and focus on education and her dream of becoming a writer. I also identified strongly with her fears and her feelings of failure. She's a very honest and sympathetic heroine. My favorite character was Anna. She sounds like my kind of woman and I have a new hero. All the other characters were very well done and memorable. Rachel's sister is a bit of a stereotype as far as sister character goes and Menaham/Marty was also a bit cookie cutter for a young boy but he had some depth to him that made him a little different from the usual little brother character. Rachel's brother-in-law Jacob and her friend Alexander round out the characters as men who embrace all America has to offer but still keep their faith in their hearts. They're drawn to strong women who know what they want and go after it. I'm not sure how realistic that is for 1907 but I liked them.

If you're looking for a book for a girl in her early-mid teens with strong female characters, this fits the bill.


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