A boy raised by his parents in a Moscow puppet theater faces the ugliness of homophobia as one of the actors, who is gay, decides to leave Russia for the Netherlands in order to escape it.
Grisha is bereft to hear that his friend and mentor, Sam, will be leaving. At the same time, his friend Sashok, who prides herself on flouting gender stereotypes, tells him that she will be having heart surgery, and the longstanding puppet master at the theater, Lyolik, is ousted to make way for someone new. Grisha is an earnest, even sweet-natured, narrator, rendering particularly ugly the harassment he faces from his peers and from his cruel grandfather, who routinely calls Sam a “queer” and Grisha himself a “sissy.” It also makes Grisha’s age elusive. The language he uses at times seems very young, as when he imagines retaliating against a boy at school “right in his smiling bully face,” though the issues he faces suggest a worldliness hinting at a somewhat older teen. This is a minor quibble, however, as readers will be engrossed by the plot hatched by Grisha and Sashok to get Lyolik back and moved by the story’s themes and the rich, image-laden language: “The theater starts murmuring, speaking, tramping, and rustling.”
A lovely, moving novel with a bittersweet conclusion. (Fiction. 12-18)