Cold War espionage smoothly blended with psychic romance.
It’s 1963, and 17-year-old Yulia is a starved “ration rat” in Khrushchev’s Moscow. Her family, once high-ranking Communist Party members, has been on the run since her father vanished. Yulia thinks the mysterious psychic ability she uses in the black market is a secret until the KGB arrests her family. If she wants to protect her mother and brother, Yulia must join six other teenagers training for the KGB’s “psychic operations wing,” learning to smoke out dissidents and American spies. The teens protect their thoughts from one another—though not from their KGB masters—by filling their heads with subconscious music: the symphonic cellos and tympani of Shostakovich for Yulia, jazz improvisations for beautiful but dangerous Valentin, ancient Russian balalaika for Maj. Kruzenko. Yulia narrates with prose that ably reflects the sometimes-discordant cacophony of these disparate musical styles, as she seeks the simple melody that will explain family secrets and earn her freedom. Smith strikes an inexpert contextualizing balance, teetering between unexplained Russian and giving Yulia an outsider’s view of her own culture. Still, the Soviet setting (uncannily similar to many a sci-fi dystopian future) is a flavorful backdrop for psychic espionage.
A sudden cliffhanger sets up this fast-paced thriller (full of blaring brass and pounding drums) for a sequel. (historical note) (Science fiction. 13-16)