­Carolrhoda Lab. Nov. 2022. 328p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781728415680.
Gr 8 Up–When 17-year-old Pavol sets fire to himself in Prague, his suicide is an act of protest against the Communist government, following the failure of the 1968 Czechoslovakian Revolution. But in his despair, Pavol has not fully considered the effects of his death on those who love him: his girlfriend, Lída, who has just realized she’s pregnant; neurodivergent Tomáš, his lonely math-club friend; and Štêpán, who is secretly in love with him. Lída, Štêpán, and Tomáš grapple with ways they might have failed Pavol, even as the authorities track down and punish them. Will these young people find a way to heal and to live with their integrity intact? Can they escape? Expertly interweaving multiple perspectives, Miller-Lachmann gets the balance right between the universality of survivor’s guilt and the specificity of the historical period. Pavol maintains his identity as the group’s moral center—he is idealistic and fallible, a hero and a boy in pain. Crucially, Pavol is balanced by Lída’s father, a WWII Resistance fighter whose alcoholism reflects the moral conflicts of a previous generation. Finally, the author even-handedly refuses to present “the West” as paradise. The author’s note provides detailed context on Czechoslovakian history and resources for further reading.
VERDICT A masterful, taut, and emotionally rich historical novel that is heartrending and essential reading for our present political climate.

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