From the same country, but two different worlds, young Russian immigrants Vaclav and Lena, become fast friends in Brooklyn. Getting through ESL and homework together, they dream of one day putting on a Magic show on Coney Island. Until the day Lena doesn't come to school, and for the next seven years Vaclav worries over her fate. The evening he finally gives up his nightly good night for Lena, the phone rings. Together can they face what happened to her?
A debut novel for Haley Tanner, Vaclav & Lena was almost an ode to the tenacity of the human spirit, and love. Whether she was telling a story about the immigrant experience or the story of child abuse, she told it with such tenderness and clarity that I can't imagine it not having resonance with those who've experienced these things themselves.
Haley's writing sparkles with other worldliness, and has an almost childlike sense of wonder to it. Even the harsher elements of the story are told in a guileless way, as if retold by a complete innocent. In the end it felt like a modern day fairy tale, albeit in the true Hans Christian Anderson style.
The characters were of course the main draw. Vaclav and his mother Rasia are incredibly lovable, and their broken English and desire to fit in yet remain true to themselves is not the least of what makes them special. Lena, though the tougher of the two children, is made rosy and perfect by Vaclav's perspective, and his romantic view of her is completely infectious. Even Vaclav's lazy, fat father has his moment to shine.
I'm not sure I've ever read a story so lovingly written before, it made the world seem like a rosier place while I read it, which was very very briefly as I could barely tear myself away. Although the two main characters are young children and then teens, this is not classified as a YA book, just mainstream fiction. But I would confidently say this book would appeal to both teens and adults alike and I can't wait to get everyone I know reading it. It goes on sale today, so don't wait!
Vaclav & Lena, by Haley Tanner
Published by Random House, May 2011
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