On a remote estate in 1910s Russia, Lara must prove herself capable of following in her father’s footsteps as the head of a prestigious borzoi breeding kennel.
There are so many things between her and the realization of her dream. That she is female is the biggest obstacle, but she must also hide the fact that she has visions of future occurrences that involve the dogs and the dangerous wolves that populate the estate. She has strong relationships with the dogs, especially with Ryczar, Zar for short, whom she has saved from being culled. But Lara will lose all she has dreamed of should her mother bear a son. When her baby brother is born, she is told that she must be trained in other skills useful for finding a husband. Many adventures involving wolf packs provide tests of Lara’s intelligence, resourcefulness and courage, and her father realizes that her special gifts are to be cherished. Lara’s first-person narration allows readers an intense depth of understanding and empathy. O’Brien has created a cast of fully realized characters in a historical setting that comes alive in vivid descriptions and lively dialogue, with just the right incorporation of Russian words to add authentic flavor. The time period is problematical, but children won’t realize that Lara’s world will soon come to a crashing end.
Engrossing and powerful. (author’s note, afterword, bibliography, glossary) (Historical fiction. 10-14)