BREAKING STALIN’S NOSE by Eugene Yelchin

Summary

Sasha Zaichik’s father is arrested by Soviet guards, which starts Sasha on the path to questioning the leader he adores and the country to which he is devoted. When Sasha accidentally breaks the nose off of a bust of Stalin, Sasha discovers how devastating it is to be on the wrong side of the rampant paranoia that pervades the Soviet Union. The book ends with little hope for Sasha or his fellow citizens.

Analysis

Sasha is an extremely relatable character. His complete approbation of his society and its leaders is believable because that is how children relate to society. Cynicism, not to mention basic critical thinking skills, is rarely a childhood trait. His thought processes are exactly what one would expect from any child, regardless of culture or time period.

Sasha’s experiences in the Soviet Union are certainly not sugar-coated. They reflect a commonly accepted history and are likely to be authentic as they stem from the author’s own experiences in Soviet Russia. The plot is no less approachable, though. It remains straightforward and realistic. While one would hope that some of Sasha’s experiences are exaggerations only to be found in fiction, it is just as likely that they are not.

Life in the Soviet Union during this time is vividly portrayed in the book. This story could have occurred only in this time and place, and the result is a powerful and distinct story that describes a time of unbridled tyranny.

Sasha’s story is a strange coming-of-age tale. The entire span of the book is two pages, and Sasha must adapt and learn more in that span of time than most other characters do over the course of a book twice its size. The themes of disillusionment and discovery are universal.

Awards

2012 Newbery Honor

2012 Junior Library Guild Selection

2012 Distinguished Work of Historical Fiction Award (Children’s Literature Council of Southern California)

2012 Women’s National Book Association’s Judy Lopez Memorial Award

2013 KS William Allen White Award

The Best Children’s Books of 2011 by the Horn Book Magazine

The Best Children’s Books of 2011 by Washington Post

2012 Capitol Choices Book, Noteworthy Books for Children

2012 Top Ten Historical Fiction for Youth by Booklist

2012 NY Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year

2012 Finalist for California Book Awards

2012 Michigan Library Association Mitten Award

2011 Editor’s Choice by Historical Novel Society

2011 Nominated for Cybills Children’s and YA Bloggers’ Literary Awards

2011 Nominated for Best Fiction by Young Adult Library Association

Reviews

Publishers Weekly stated that Yelchin “makes an impressive middle-grade debut with this compact novel about a devoted young Communist in Stalin-era Russia, illustrated with dramatically lit spot art.” Horn Book gave the novel a starred review and said that it “gets at the heart of a society that asks its citizens, even its children, to report on relatives and friends. Appropriately menacing illustrations by first-time novelist Yelchin add a sinister tone” (Macmillan Publishers Online 2015).

Related Books

CATCH YOU LATER, TRAITOR by Avi

THE GIVER by Lois Lowry

RED KITE, BLUE KITE by Ji-li Jiang

Activities

Take a look at the black and white illustrations in BREAKING STALIN’S NOSE. Make a pencil drawing of moment of revelation or conflict in your own life and tell the story.

References

Eugene Yelchin Books. “Breaking Stalin’s Nose” Accessed October 19, 2015. http://eugeneyelchinbooks.com/stalinsnose.php

Macmillan Publishers Online. “Breaking Stalin’s Nose.” Accessed October 19, 2015. http://us.macmillan.com/breakingstalinsnose/eugeneyelchin

“Molotov, Stalin and Voroshilov, 1937.” From Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9c/Stalin_Image.jpg

Yelchin, Eugene. 2011. BREAKING STALIN’S NOSE. New York: Henry Holt. ISBN 9780805092165

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