"My dad is a hero and a Communist and, more than anything, I want to be like him. I can never be like Comrade Stalin, of course. He's our great Leader and Teacher."
Sasha proceeds to write Comrade Stalin a letter, detailing his commitment to joining the Young Soviet Pioneers and training his vigilant character. Within hours, the young boy's life is in upheaval, yet he maintains the belief that with Comrade Stalin's help, all will be made right, never wavering in his faithfulness to the Communist ideals. The depth of brainwashing and use of propaganda to reinforce twisted ideas and supposed facts is incredible. Without giving away too much of the plot, just know that the plaster bust of Stalin in the elementary school hallway plays into a fateful accident that shapes Sasha's destiny.
In the end he is waiting in a long line in Lubyanka Square, suddenly befriended by an older woman who shares a warm scarf, hopeful and looking toward his future.
Yelchin's stark monochromatic illustrations provide intensity, action, and insight amidst the tension of the text. The stunning dust jacket shows St. Basil's and the Kremlin in the distance with the young boy marching across the icy streets through thick snow. Yelchin's Author's Note ends with these words:
"I set this story in the past, but the main issue in it transcends time and place. To this day, there are places in the world where innocent people face persecution and death for making a choice about what they believe to be right."