Love triangles tend to make people angry.
This novel—a coming-of-age story set in the Soviet Union in the early days of perestroika—may make readers upset for other reasons. Sonya is a 15-year-old Jewish girl, and the guy she’s dating might genuinely be one of the worst people on Earth. Ruslan is violent and bigoted, and he tends to patronize Sonya. He says things like, “it’s time you learned life a little…you little hedgehog in a fog.” Readers may wonder if Sonya is entering into an abusive relationship, especially when Ruslan tries to beat up his romantic rivals, like her other love interest, a perpetually tan Jewish boy named Misha Aizerman. The novel might have provided valuable insight into survivors of abuse if Ruslan were the least bit appealing, but the attraction seems to be mostly chemical. His eyes are apparently enchanting, because Sonya describes them every few chapters. Debut author Raina’s prose is often repetitive and clumsy, though from time to time it’s possible to glimpse the novel she meant to write, a moving story not only about love, but about political freedom and religious identity.
Unfortunately, even Team Edward may find Ruslan difficult to defend. (Historical fiction. 12-16)