Tolstikova offers an illustrated memoir of her 13th year: it's the year the Soviet Union falls, but more importantly, it's the year she stays in Moscow with her grandparents while her mother studies abroad.
Cataclysmic though the end of Soviet rule is, it occupies just a few pages of this heavily illustrated book: "one morning we wake up and Gorbachev...is taken prisoner by some bad people," Dasha writes, then "good guy Yeltsin...comes to the rescue." Of far greater moment than seismic political activity are the everyday concerns of a middle school girl. She develops a crush on charismatic Petya, hangs out with chums Masha and Natasha, attends after-school art classes, excels in math and physics, has a falling-out with her friends, and applies to a magnet school, all the while carving out a life without her mother. Soviet-era Russian realities are only hinted at, backgrounding Dasha's story but never overwhelming it. Scribbly, childlike pencil drawings are filled in with gray wash and accentuated with red and the occasional pop of blue. They are deceptively simple, but with great narrative sophistication, they capture both the specificity of Dasha's experience and the universality of her emotions. The text is likewise unadorned and effective: "I don't care about anything anymore. It's cold and dark out. I am not cool. Petya will never like me. School is boring. Everything sucks."
Fascinating and heartfelt. (Graphic memoir. 10-14)