Red Stars

Delacorte. Nov. 2020. 432p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781984893321.
Gr 6 Up–Translated from Italian, this is a novel way to approach historical fiction, as the format includes diary entries, historical photos, maps, and drawings, and is printed in two colors. Twins Viktor and Nadya are 12 when Hitler’s Army declares war on the Soviet Union. The story is told in three voices, alternating between Nadya and Viktor (the text’s color changes to indicate which twin is narrating), and the offstage voice of an officer of the Soviet Secret Police whose handwritten comments appear in the margins. The officer declares that he has possession of the notebooks obtained during a search and two rubber stamps, one which says “innocent” and the other “guilty.” The twins’ parents work as assistants at the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad, and their father gave them the notebooks, which they began using when Germany bombed Leningrad on June 22, 1941. When Papa gets sent away to fight with the militia, the children are told they’re being evacuated for their “safety.” After promising their parents they’ll stay together always, they are accidentally separated and put onto different trains. Viktor’s train arrives in Moscow, where he’s expected to do hard labor on a kolkhoz (farm), and news travels that Nadya’s train was bombed with no survivors. Viktor doesn’t believe the accounts, and he sets off to rescue his sister. Though separated by war, famine, and the vicious winter, Nadya and Viktor both experience twin “telepathy” and feel their sibling is still out there. Viktor’s journey is a fictionalized account of the Road of Life, which was an ice road winter transport route across Leningrad. The twins’ heroics and sacrifices border on unbelievable, which the officer also points out while he identifies their crimes and treason. During this period of time, approximately 11 million civilians died of starvation, 400,000 of them children, and the story includes children dying of injuries and starvation.
VERDICT World War II aficionados may soak up this account of a horrific period in history, as the hybrid format offers a different way of exploring this segment of time. However, the brutal violence may cause some readers to take pause, and those unfamiliar with WWII history may need background knowledge before reading.

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