In Romanov, Nadine Brandes explores what happened to the Romanov family in Russia from the time of their captivity after the forced abdication of the throne through their executions and beyond. The Unabridged crew had a chance to interview Nadine about this awesome book; see the link at the bottom of this post to check out everything she shared!
This novel focuses on the young, spunky, courageous Anastasia (Nastya), who is a teenager when the abdication happens. However, Brandes also explores the other family members through Nastya's relationships with them. Through the course of the novel, the readers get to know Natstya's siblings, especially the eldest, Maria, and Alexei, Nastya's sickly brother who was heir to the throne prior to the revolution.
In this historical fiction young adult novel mingled with fantasy, magic and imagination play a powerful role in the way that events unfold for some of the members of the Romanov family. During their captivity, the Romanovs find unexpected friendships and even love. Some of the soldiers who guard the family find themselves questioning the Bolsheviks' decisions as they discover the kindness, playfulness, and cheerfulness of the Romanov children. Both Nastya and Maria find themselves falling for soldiers who guard them, and comrades Ivan and Zash take different attitudes toward their situation, but both struggle to manage their feelings.
In this novel, Brandes explores how loyalty to a cause can come into question when faced with the humanity of those on the other side. The Romanov family members, led by their father's example, are kind and compassionate toward the soldiers who guard them, which evolves into unexpected understanding between the two groups. Both Nastya and Zash find their feelings for each other growing stronger as their time together lengthens. However, the political complexities keep them all on edge as the situation for the family grows ever more desperate.
One of the aspects of the novel that I most appreciated was the question of culpability and the role of forgiveness. Though tensions are high throughout the period of captivity, tender moments also surround the Romanov family, and that tenderness evolves into a complicated love. In this passage, Nastya considers what has happened and thinks, “I realized that a part of forgiveness was accepting the things that someone had done -- and the pain that came with that -- and moving on with love. Forgiveness was a personal batter that must always be fought in my heart. Daily. And though I was tired of running and fighting and surviving... I wasn't ready to surrender that battle yet.” Nastya has to reconcile her ideals with the reality surrounding her. She also has to consider what she hopes for her beloved country in the face of the current turmoil. Ultimately, she must decide what she hopes for herself and for the land she loves, forcing her to make hard choices.
This was a great novel rife with interesting historical tidbits and rich with complex character dynamics. It brings to life the family, time period, and location of the Romanov regime as it came to its end.
“It was still hard for a Korean to become a Japanese citizen, and there were many who considered such a thing shameful—for a Korean to try to become a citizen of its former oppressor. When she told her friends in New York about this curious historical anomaly and the pervasive ethnic bias, they were incredulous at the thought that the friendly, well-mannered Japanese they knew could ever think she was somehow criminal, lazy, filthy, or aggressive—the negative stereotypical traits of Koreans in Japan.”
I started this book rather randomly one night while trapped in the room with my toddlers who were refusing to go to sleep (but were actually letting me read -- a rare moment, but one that required the Kindle instead of a regular book, which is how I discovered that I'd purchased this book on one of the daily deals... such a good purchase!).
I was immediately swept away by the tender, compelling story of the young Sunja, child of Hoonie and Yangjin, and their family's challenges as they worked to make their living by running a boarding house for people in the small village where they lived in Korea. When Sunja found herself in a position of dishonor and shame, I was moved by her resolution and her courage. As she makes the move to Japan, the story shifts into an exploration of Korean life in Japan. The epic novel moves through generations of Koreans in Japan, and Lee highlights the systemic oppression faced by Koreans in Japan, moving from the early 1900s all the way to present day.
I loved the way the novel showed the complexities of identity and the weight of family. I also found the treatment of Koreans in Japan both appalling and a bit surprising -- I found that it was something about which I knew very little. I loved the way that Lee showed the various reactions and feelings toward the Japanese and life in Japan.
I'm kind of thankful that I didn't realize how long the book was or how many generations would be covered -- I might have felt a little intimidated, or I might have put it off for another time. Instead, I knew nothing about it other than what I know about current day pachinko parlors in Japan, and I found myself wrapped up in the complex story of this family and their struggles to understand their identity (both as individuals and as a collective group).
By tracking the pathways of so many individuals, this novel spans the scope of human experience, and Lee explores the common threads within that experience. “He was suffering, and in a way, he could manage that; but he had caused others to suffer, and he did not know why he had to live now and recall the series of terrible choices that had not looked so terrible at the time. Was that how it was for most people?” Although this thought came from a more minor character, it incapsulates the scope of this powerful narrative and its examination of human experience. Such a profound novel.
This was definitely one of the best reads of 2019 so far for me, and one of the most impactful books I've read in a long time.
Quick Summary: This is a novel set during the time period of the American civil war, but in the story, during the war, the soldiers become the undead, and through bites, they contaminated more people. In the years that follow, teens of color are put into combat schools to learn to be attendants for wealthy white people. Jane McKeene is a teen participating in the combat training program, but when she is abruptly shipped off to a settlement out west, she discovers even more challenges in their unstable world.
My Take: I loved this novel. I wasn't sure how I would feel about it because "zombie books" aren't typically my favorite, but I adored Jane's forthright, courageous character from the beginning, and I was captivated by the horrendous circumstances put in place by the white, privileged people in power in the society.
My conclusion: This is a powerful read - fast moving with rich characters and complex circumstances. Jane McKeene is one of my all-time favorite YA characters - she's clever, sassy, and determined. Most importantly, I love the way that Justina Ireland provides insightful commentary on the ways that American culture has systemically and mercilessly oppressed people groups in order to further the causes of the few privileged people within the society (who use their privilege to maintain the hegemonic social structure) and the fierce bravery of those who stand against that structure. 4/5 stars.
Teaching Tips: This would be an awesome book to use for lit circles. It is a great read for teens and would work well in any class from grades 9-12 (and could be handled by some middle school students as well). As far as lit circles go, this book could be in a group with other books about the civil war era, but it could also fit nicely with books about oppression, justice, and the power of young people to change the world around them.
Podcast Highlights: I particularly loved the discussion about Jane as a protagonist who is more complex and real than many of the female teen protagonists we see in dystopian or apocalyptic YA novels. I think Sara was right that Jane is more real and richer in depth than many of the female protagonists in YA novels.
K. Ashley Dickson-Ellison is a former high school English teacher (who is now an instructional technology teacher) interested in exploring the integration of trending young adult literature into the English classroom experience. Ashley is also a member of the podcast Unabridged; check out the podcast site below.
Please note: All ideas and opinions are my own and do not represent my current or past employers.
© K. Ashley Dickson and Teaching the Apocalypse 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to K. Ashley Dickson and Teaching the Apocalypse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All thoughts and ideas are the author's and do not represent any employer.