Review: The Impossible Journey

impossiblejourneyBook: The Impossible Journey (2004)
Author: Gloria Whelan
Genre: MG, Historical (Soviet Union 1934)
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot:  Marya and Georgi want nothing more than to be reunited with their parents who have been taken during one of Stalin’s purges. The two determined children set out on an impossible journey across Russia towards a remote village in Siberia with the slight hope that they will find their mother there. (A companion book to Angel on the Square.)


1) I read Angel on the Square a long time ago. (Hint: It’s about Marya’s and Georgi’s mother.) I didn’t know this book existed until now! I like that it’s not a direct “sequel”, but that it does give us another peek into the lives of the characters from the first book. (Note: You can also read this book without having read Angel.)

2) The sibling relationship between Marya and Georgi is both realistic and sweet. He’s the typical younger brother who frustrates Marya. And yet she can’t leave him behind!

3) I love the look at the different families in this book. The book is about two children seeking to reunite their own split-apart family. Then there’s the neighbor family (with the bear) who initially take them in…. The doctor’s family on the train… And the “big family” of the Samoyeds (nomadic tribe).

4) The history of the time period of this book has always fascinated me. I thought Whelan did a good job in depicting the hardships of living under Stalin. One of my favourite parts was when Marya meets the Government Man and is forced to sing the praises of Stalin. (And how Georgi almost sabotages her plan!)

5) I really enjoyed learning about the Samoyeds (nomads who lived in Russia/Siberia at this time). I liked the interaction they had with the children, especially with regards to Georgi’s snow globe. I really liked how Marya and Georgi are not only helped by them, but also end up helping them in return.


1) I found it hard to understand Marya’s impulsive nature, especially with regard to showing off her mother’s locket. (I suppose you could argue that it’s still only 1934 and she doesn’t yet know the danger of such items. The height of Stalin’s purges doesn’t happen until 1938.) Not a major criticism as the episode does show how school was a place where information was gleaned about parents.

2) In the very end, there is (what I’d consider) an unnecessary death. Certainly it’s realistic, but it didn’t seem to be absolutely necessary to the book.


My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – This book gives a good sense of this oppressive time period in history. I’d definitely recommend for anybody who likes history as well as those who like plucky-children-who-take-impossible-journeys stories.


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