It's 1937, and Anya is becoming accustomed to Shanghai. Her family had to flee Odessa in the night after Papa told that ugly policeman he wouldn't join the Communist Party. Now China is home for her whole family: Papa, Mama (a former opera singer), Mama's parents, Babushka and Dedushka, and baby brother Georgi. In Shanghai's French Quarter, they live Jewish lives as if the Japanese weren't advancing on the city. Anya's biggest worry is the prospect of telling her mother she doesn't want to become an opera singer—until the day she finds a baby in the gutter. Will Mama and Papa let her keep the baby? Anya's Shanghai is richly chaotic, polyglot and packed with refugees. Russian, Yiddish, Hebrew, Mandarin Chinese and Italian pepper the dialogue. Meanwhile, immigrant Anya happily devours her buckwheat piroshki with chopsticks after Papa has recited the Hebrew blessings over the food. The chaos of the prose is less felicitous; characters whisk between conversations without segue. A delightfully textured—but confusingly rushed—glimpse at a little-remembered period of Jewish history. (Historical fiction. 10-12)
A Canadian girl endures hardship and struggles in her 14th year.
Kate’s the oldest of six children in a Catholic family living in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, in 1925. Ever since her mother came down with tuberculosis a year ago, her father’s been drinking the family into ruin. When he loses his job as a bakery delivery driver, the family relocates to his parents’ remote farm, then returns as her mother’s health worsens. And then another catastrophe strikes. Kate tries to keep charge of her siblings, but eventually they’re farmed out to other family members, and Kate’s father sells the titular ring, which was her mother’s. Much happens, and the characters move around a lot, but they never really come to life—Kate’s brothers in particular seem interchangeable—and a lot of the emotion in the story feels forced. Though the action is told from Kate’s first-person perspective, readers never fully understand what she most deeply wants, or why, and while the setting is carefully drawn, it feels more like a memory than a lived-in place. Kate’s voice is appropriately antique: Her mother’s illness is “consumption,” she has a “pal” named Grace, and she is mindful of “proper” behavior. All characters adhere to a white default.
Bleak and, unfortunately, not particularly compelling.
(Historical fiction. 10-12)