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.
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.
My Take: These books were fascinating to read. I was captivated by Reading People, and I learned quite a bit about my own personality, especially in the chapter on highly sensitive people. I'd Rather Be Reading was a playful and interesting examination of the reading life and its manifestations.
My conclusion: I loved both of these books, and they were so fun to discuss with my podcast co-hosts. It's fascinating to think about your personality, and it can be a helpful way to connect better to loved ones and to live a more fulfilling life. The bookish essays within I'd Rather Be Reading were such a joy for my book-loving heart.
Podcast Highlights: It was both fun and illuminating to discuss the books (and our personalities!) with Jen and Sara. We learned all sorts of things about ourselves, and it was such a joy to explore our bookish loves in our conversation together.
Quick Summary: In this episode, we discussed three of the choices for Global Read Aloud this year. If you're unfamiliar with Global Read Aloud, it is a movement focused on connecting classrooms around the world through shared reading experiences. Below are the summaries we wrote for each of the novels we discuss in the podcast.
Podcast Highlights: It was so fun to discuss all three of these books with Jen and Sara, and I loved hearing their perspectives.
Quick Summary: In this episode, we’re discussing Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter. It is a story about Jason Dessen, a physics professor, husband, and father, whose life is turned upside down when he is kidnapped and transported to a different world--one where his wife is not his wife, his son is not there, and he is profoundly successful as a physicist and has accomplished seemingly impossible things. As Jason struggles to figure out what is real, he works to find his way home. The protagonist must face the fragile nature of his reality as he struggles to reunite with his family and his world.
My Take: This was a fast-paced sci-fi book that grabbed me and kept moving. There are parts that were truly mind-blowing. Some of the details of the plot itself left me a bit perplexed, but it was a good read overall.
My verdict: The premise of this captivated me. As things unfolded, I found myself a bit skeptical of some of what came, but it was really enjoyable and fast-moving. 3/5 stars.
Favorite Quotes: There were lots of quotes I enjoyed in this fast-paced novel.
Teaching Tips: While I would not teach this whole class, it could work in lit circles. It could also work well in a creative writing class since the narrative structure is fascinating!
Podcast Highlights: I loved/ felt mortified by listening to us try to work through some of the theoretical physics that are completely foreign to us! It's always humbling to discuss something completely outside of one's field of expertise. My cheeks are burning now just thinking about it!
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.