Litman chooses a claustrophobic setting for her second novel (after The Last Chicken in America): a Soviet boarding school for children with scoliosis. As the story begins in 1980s Moscow, seven-year-old Kat is ready to start first grade at a new school—the same one where her parents, Anechka and Misha, are beloved, charismatic teachers who, in their private hours, host risky meetings of dissidents. But after Kat is diagnosed with scoliosis, she must leave her warm, chaotic family for the rigors of the “special school,” where she will be fitted for a brace (which resembles “the carcass of a prehistoric animal”) and faced with increasing prejudice against her Jewish heritage and pressure to conform to Communist ideals. When Kat reaches adolescence, Anechka and Misha come to teach at her school, ostensibly for her own good, but their presence only aggravates Kat’s troubles. Kat, refreshingly, isn’t painted as a blameless victim, but her needs—for her mother’s love, or love of any kind—are so relatable that she never becomes unsympathetic. Readers who can make it through the book’s grim early section will be interested to see how Kat does when the brace finally come off. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 12/16/2013 Release date: 03/01/2014 Genre: Fiction
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