Book: A Boy is Not a Bird (2019)
Author: Edeet Ravel
Genre: MG, Historical [Soviet Union – 1940s]
Basic plot: Natt and his friend Max are the “two musketeers.” But war comes to his village, and so do the Russians. Suddenly, Natt’s no longer going to Hebrew classes and then his father is arrested. When his mother goes away, suddenly Natt is in the interrogator’s chair. He starts to wonder if Stalin really is the friend of children.
Opening lines from the book …
My best friend Max and I are playing a game called Life and Death on the High Seas. Max came up with both the game and the name. He gets all the good ideas. I’m more of a go-along type of guy.
WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…
1) I loved the friendship between Max and Natt. I think I was particularly drawn to Max because, while Natt buys into the lies being taught at school, Max seems to know something is a little odd about it. I love how Max comes up with various “illnesses” to get out of going to school!
2) I did like how the teachers are not necessarily “evil” in this book. Comrade Martha and Comrade Minsky are shown more in a complex light, especially Comrade Minsky (who we learn *slight spoiler* is also Jewish). While Comrade Martha pushes the Russian and Soviet agenda, she doesn’t vilify Natt, even after his father is arrested. She actually gives him Soviet prizes. I found this interesting and made me think she, like others, is just caught in Soviet web and just tries to do her best to survive.
3) I loved the theme of negative numbers which Comrade Minsky introduces during math class. I loved how it plays into the plot as Natt loses things, one by one… his dad, his house, etc. The book is even separated into sections labeled ‘Minus a House’ and ‘Minus a Town.’
4) I also enjoyed Mr. Elias, Natt’s Hebrew teacher. Later in the story, Natt becomes very close to his little daughter, Shainie (who seems about three or four years old). At one point, they are separated, and the little girls reaction shows how much she adores her big kid friend. I like how the author manages to incorporate her into the very end of the story.
5) The author’s note at the end of the book explains the true story behind this book.
THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…
1) At times, I was confused by Natt’s age. There are spots where he seems to be twelve (I think that’s his age in the story), but there were other times when he seemed much, much younger. He seemed very naive, especially compared with Max. Since this book is based on true events, it’s possible that this is part of the real “Natt,” but I do think kids these days will have a hard time connecting with him at times.
2) The book also ended a tad abruptly. It seems like there is a lot more to Natt’s story. And in the author’s note, she does mention that it’s supposed to be a trilogy. That’s fine, but I did want just a little more at the end of this one.
I think this story is such an important one. I love historical fiction, and I do have soft spot (if you can call it that) for stories about the Soviet Union since that is part of my heritage. I would recommend this to anybody who’s interested in history. I look forward to reading the next two books to find out what happens to Natt!
Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday…