Castle of Concrete

New Europe. Jun. 2019. 304p. pap. $15.95. ISBN 9780999541630.
Gr 8 Up–This bildungsroman/love story set during the 1990–91 Russian unrest centers on a Jewish girl. In 1990, Sonya leaves Siberia to join her dissident mother in Moscow and start a new life full of possibilities, leaving her shy, bookish self behind. She catches bad boy Ruslan’s eye but is also intrigued by self-assured Misha, who is Jewish. Sonya, who is half Jewish and looks Russian, is searching for connections. She dates Ruslan, who attends protests, but when she discovers Ruslan is a white supremacist, she confides her Judaism and ends things. A chaste relationship with Misha ensues. Everything comes to a head during the 1991 coup, culminating in Ruslan throwing a rock that hits Misha, nearly killing him. The writing is awkward and stilted in places, keeping readers at a distance from Sonya. Chemistry between Sonya and Ruslan is lacking—their supposed love never feels believable, and Ruslan remains the archetype of the bad boy, more of a plot device than a fully realized character. Sonya’s search for who she is feels plausible, but she’s not particularly sympathetic. The book lacks context about Russian politics at the time, and without previous knowledge, readers are left floundering.
VERDICT There is a definite need for books with Jewish protagonists. Unfortunately, this one, which lacks transitions and has the feel of a fictionalized memoir, falls flat.

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