Arcady's Goal

illus. by Eugene Yelchin. 240p. Holt. Oct. 2014. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780805098440; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781627792912.
Gr 5–8—After his parents are accused of being enemies of the state, 12-year-old Arcady grew up being carted from orphanage to orphanage in Soviet Russia. Although Arcady hasn't had a great childhood, he is great at soccer. In fact, his soccer skills are his ticket out of the orphanage when soft-hearted schoolteacher-turned-orphanage-inspector, Ivan Ivanych, sees Arcady play on an inspection and decides to adopt him. Believing the inspector is actually recruiting youth players for the Soviet's greatest team —the Red Army—in disguise, Arcady calls his new benefactor Coach, and treats him like one, always trying to impress Coach with his skills. Ivan lives up to his new title, creating a youth soccer team just for Arcady to play on. Through this team, Arcady finds that he and Coach are more alike than he originally thought, he learns the true colors of the communist attitude, and he finds his and Ivan's next ticket out of exile: a tryout for the real Red Army soccer team. In tune with his Newbery Honor book, Breaking Stalin's Nose (Holt, 2011), Yelchin's latest features quick and easy chapters, stimulating, true-to-life characters, and beautiful, mood-setting illustrations. Although a rough knowledge of Soviet Russia would help readers understand Arcady's world from the get-go, a foreword and author's note orient readers outright. Kids can also infer context from Arcady's own growing understanding of his country's situation. This title is a great suggestion for those who enjoy the soccer stories by Matt Christopher, historical fiction, and war stories.—Brittany Staszak, Glencoe Public Library, IL
Arcady's parents were declared enemies of the state, resulting in his assignment to prisonlike orphanages. Now twelve, Arcady is a gifted soccer player. When former schoolteacher Ivan Ivanych wants to adopt Arcady, the boy is sure his soccer skill is the only reason. Although writing in the first person from Arcady's point of view, Yelchin has created two complex and evolving characters.
Newbery Honor-winner Yelchin (Breaking Stalin's Nose, rev. 9/11) provides another glimpse into Soviet life, once again with a young boy as the main character. He begins with the photograph "that inspired this book": a picture of the 1945 Red Army Soccer Club (of which Yelchin's father was captain). Protagonist Arcady's parents were declared enemies of the state when he was just a toddler, resulting in his assignment to a series of prisonlike orphanages. Now twelve, Arcady has become a gifted and aggressive soccer player with an earned distrust for authority and a thin veneer of cocky self-confidence. Ivan Ivanych, a former schoolteacher with experience of his own concerning enemies of the state, witnesses a soccer exhibition that showcases Arcady's skill. When Ivan returns to the orphanage to adopt Arcady, the boy is sure that his soccer skill is the only reason Ivan is interested in him. Although writing in the first person from Arcady's point of view, Yelchin has created two complex and evolving characters. There is an awkward tenderness in Ivan, tempered by a sense of decency and fortitude. Arcady is awkward in his own way -- having too little knowledge of life outside the orphanage and too much knowledge of the rules and injustices within. While there may be enough soccer here to lure the sports enthusiast, it is the emotional power of the tale that captures the reader's heart. Copious sketchlike black-and-white illustrations underscore the book's emotional heft. viki ash

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