Rachel Paskar, now 16 in 1905 San Francisco, begins life anew, a refugee with her older sister, brother-in-law, and Menahem, a young boy with whom they escaped from the 1903 Kishinev, Russia, pogrom (Rachel’s Secret, 2012).
It is a tough life made more complicated by new customs and language. Intertwined with Rachel’s story is that of Sergei, her special friend in Russia, now escaping from a prison sentence in Siberia for fighting the czarist government. Readers explore San Francisco as Rachel and her family learn their way around and begin to make a life. After a long day’s work as a maid, Rachel studies English in a newcomer’s school and does well. She is ambitious, and perhaps as a character she is too nice, almost without faults. Readers will be confident that given time, she will succeed—but not before surviving the ’quake-fire of 1906. The stylistic advantage of having separate chapters about two protagonists, Rachel and Sergei, allows time to pass without detailing what has occurred between events. An added character based on the Jewish-American socialist Anna Strunsky encourages Rachel in her ambition to become a writer but is tangential to the story and disappears from it, one of a number of extraneous details that lessen tension and interfere with what is basically a character study.
Alas, not tight enough to resonate deeply. (historical note, glossary) (Historical fiction. 11-14)