cover image Mother Tongue

Mother Tongue

Julie Mayhew. Candlewick, $16.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-5362-0263-2

Based on the 2004 terrorist act that killed scores of schoolchildren in the town of Beslan, Russia, Mayhew’s novel details the trauma that overwhelms the community. Darya, 18, has served as mother to her beloved seven-year-old sister, Nika, ever since their own mother took to her bed following Nika’s birth. Nika’s first day of school is interrupted by shootings and the students being taken hostage as Darya and other family members regard the violence with disbelieving fright. The tragedy rouses Darya’s mother, adding to Darya’s shock as she’s supplanted in her role as grieving caregiver. By the time Nika’s body is found, media and charities have descended on the devastated town, bringing a glimpse of the outside world to Darya and instilling a dream of escaping her sorrow. In exchange for her story, an American journalist teaches her English and facilitates her journey to Moscow, and Darya falls in love with him. Mayhew (The Big Lie) constructs a vividly detailed Russian world in Darya’s stifling countryside town and in her experience of cosmopolitan confusion and solitude in Moscow. Darya’s self-honesty and resilience as she learns to survive the unbearable creates a raw, compelling read. Ages 14–up. [em](Aug.) [/em]