Tuesday, August 11, 2015

REVIEW: Rachel's Secret by Shelly Sanders

Rachel's Secret 
by Shelly Sanders

Publisher: Second Story Press
Page Count: 241
Release Date: April 1, 2012
Format: Paperback

How got: personal library, bought from Amazon

First attention getter: time period and description

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:

Rachel, a Jew, and Sergei, a Christian, find their worlds torn apart by violence in pre-revolutionary Russia...

Rachel is a Jew living in Kishinev, Russia. At fourteen, Rachel knows that she wants more from life than the traditional role of wife and mother. She has dreams of being a writer. But everything is put on hold when a young Christian man is murdered and Rachel is forced to keep the murderer’s identity a secret. Tensions mount as the Christians’ distrust of the Jews is fueled by prejudice and rumour.

While Rachel keeps the truth to herself, she watches as lies and anti-Jewish propaganda leap off the pages of the local newspaper, inciting Christians to riot against the Jews. Violence breaks out on Easter Sunday, 1903, and when it finally ends, Rachel finds that the person she loves most is dead and that her home has been destroyed. As she struggles to survive the aftermath of the riots – or pogroms – support comes from someone totally unexpected, when a young Christian named Sergei turns against his father, a police officer complicit in the riots, to help Rachel.

With everything against them, the two young people find comfort in the bond that is growing between them, one of the few signs of goodness and hope in a time of chaos and violence.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

A promising start to this trilogy, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. YA novels are sometimes a toss-up; they can be shockingly awesome or heaping piles of stinky stuff. It all depends on which part of the YA audience the author is targeting, I think, and how much effort goes into telling a truly great story. This one falls on the awesome side.

First off, I was surprised by how much the author DIDN’T shy away from the tragedy, drama, suspense, and horror that revolve around the early 20th century pogroms in Russia. Events are shown in all their horrific and bloody boldness; giving the reader an immediate portrayal of these sad historical events.

I found this go-for-broke portrayal refreshing as its stuff that the younger generations really need to be exposed to, in my opinion. But if you want to protect your kids longer, maybe screen this one first.

I admired the amount of real historical research that was incorporated into the storyline, too. Real people and real event sequences found themselves woven into Rachel’s story with seamless effort. The times and effort the author put into getting her facts right shows.

Our leads, Rachel and Sergei, made me invested in the story even more. Very human and understandably young, the story in these horrific surroundings seems more immediate due to them. Rachel is trying to find an identity for herself outside of her society’s expectations, dreaming dreams bigger than her circumstances. Sergei is rebelling against the expectations of his father as well, standing up for his dreams of a different life as well as his own inner moral code that differs significantly from his fathers. How these two deal with the trauma and tragedy of the Kishinev pogrom pulled at the heartstrings and made me live the events with them.

This was a winner of a YA historical novel. The author took her time in her research and portrayal, giving homage to the original material at the same time making it her own for her story. Brutality wasn’t shied away from, giving the book extra weight. Our lead characters made the story very immediate and close to my heart, their young eyes providing fresh horror and depth to the intolerance of anti-Semitism. This is the first in a trilogy, and I can’t wait to follow Rachel and Sergei as they travel the world and follow their dreams.

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