Review of The Lost Year

The Lost Year The Lost Year
by Katherine Marsh
Intermediate, Middle School  Roaring Brook    368 pp.
1/23    9781250313607    $17.99
e-book ed.  9781250313614    $10.99

Marsh’s affecting historical novel, inspired by her own family’s story, describes the social and political backdrop of the Holodomor, a famine that killed millions of ­Ukrainians in the 1930s and was covered up by the Soviets (Ukraine was a republic of the USSR at the time). It opens by introducing Matthew, a present-day, screen-obsessed thirteen-year-old living in New Jersey, “basically under house arrest” during the COVID-19 pandemic. He has been asked to help Nadiya, his hundred-year-old great-grandmother, to sort through her belongings; in so doing he starts to piece together the Lomachenko family story. Matthew’s chapters alternate with those of Mila, a Young Pioneer living in 1930s Kyiv under the watchful eye of her doting widowed father (and Papa Stalin), and of Nadiya’s cousin Helen in Depression-era Brooklyn. The harsh realities of the Stalin regime—where citizens could be declared “class enemies,” evicted from their homes, and sent to labor colonies for any perceived anti-Party infraction—come to light. The horrors of state-sanctioned starvation and the desperation of would-be refugees are palpable and disturbing to read, but they are made palatable because the experiences are filtered through the viewpoints and sensibilities of young people caught up in the disaster. The multiple voices come together to bear witness and remind us that history is a collection of stories, “and it matters enormously who gets to tell them.” A compelling and timely look at the historically complex and fraught relationship between Ukraine and Russia.

From the March/April 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Luann Toth
Luann Toth

Luann Toth is a former reviews editor at School Library Journal. She holds an MLIS from the University of Pittsburgh.

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