Lara's Gift

Lara's Gift

5.0 3
by Annemarie O'Brien

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Young Lara is being groomed in the family tradition to take over as Count Voronstov's next kennel steward, breeding borzoi dogs worthy of the Tsar. But then Lara's baby brother is born and she finds herself supplanted as her father decides to make her brother the next kennel steward. Going against her father's wishes and becoming increasingly sure of her special gift


Young Lara is being groomed in the family tradition to take over as Count Voronstov's next kennel steward, breeding borzoi dogs worthy of the Tsar. But then Lara's baby brother is born and she finds herself supplanted as her father decides to make her brother the next kennel steward. Going against her father's wishes and becoming increasingly sure of her special gift of understanding these incredible dogs, Lara risks everything when she reveals the truth about her visions. Now she must save Zar, her favorite borzoi and the one she raised from birth, from a hungry pack of wolves. Only then can she find her own, extraordinary destiny. . . .

Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
★ 09/01/2013
Gr 5–8—Lara Ivanova Bogdanova loves the borzoi, the dogs her father breeds on the Count's estate in imperial Russia. Training and caring for the animals alongside her father, she dreams of following him as kennel steward. Then her baby brother is born, and she is devastated when her father determines that she will marry instead. But visions regarding the dogs still come to her despite her father's demand that she stop them. She knows that Zar, the runt she saved from death despite her father's disapproval, has an important part to play in hunting the wolves that plague the estate if only her father would give him a chance. The story develops beautifully from Lara's saving Zar and moves swiftly through the conflicts between Lara and her father as well as the confrontations between Zar and the wolves. Lara bravely steps forward to fight for her dreams in an era in which women were seen as fit only to be wives and mothers, seamstresses and midwives. Birth and fight scenes are handled realistically and factually. The imagery creates a vivid sense of time and place. Compelling historical fiction, this is also a powerful story about the bond between dogs and humans, fathers and daughters. The author's note explains how the story came to be written and which minor aspects of the time and place were adapted to fit it.—Heidi Grange, Summit Elementary School, Smithfield, UT
From the Publisher
Starred Review, School Library Journal, September 2013:
"Compelling historical fiction, this is also a powerful story about the bond between dogs and humans, fathers and daughters.”

Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2013:
"Engrossing and powerful."

Booklist, August 1, 2013:
"Dog lovers especially will pick up this trail right away and eagerly track the appealing heroine’s adventures."

VOYA - Kimberly Bower
Lara has always loved borzoi dogs. She is eager to follow in her father's footsteps, breeding magnificent specimens worthy of Count Vorontsov's service. In some mysterious way, Lara has always managed to be in the right place at the right time to meet the dogs' needs. Some call it luck, but her parents know better. Lara has a gift, one that her mother encourages and her father fears. Only one event could spoil all that she has worked so hard to achieve. When Lara's mother gives birth to a son, her worst fears are realized. Her father delights in his son and plans to groom him instead. Will Lara's gift be enough to convince her father that her rightful place is with the borzoi? Or will its use bring devastation down on them all? In Lara's Gift, O'Brien has crafted a genuinely believable tale set in Imperial Russia. The brutality of the hunt provides a stark contrast to the joy of new pups. The distinction between classes is clearly depicted. The sprinkling of Russian terms, defined in a glossary, lends authenticity to the dialog. The author's research on the history of the period, the borzoi, the social classes, and the land is evident throughout the story and is well-documented in the bibliography. This title is highly recommended for historical fiction collections of both middle school and public libraries. Reviewer: Kimberly Bower
Children's Literature - Susan Treadway
Discovering that family ties are strengthened through significant changes in one's life is a key theme as young Lara adjusts to having a little brother while living in Imperial Russia in the early 1900's. She has been groomed to be chief steward of their prize borzoi breed dogs following highly respected traditions. Nobility and keeping promises are fundamental virtues of their culture just as early 20th century customs are integral to Lara facing challenges within her loving family. Once baby Bohdan was born, Lara struggles to find her new place and vital role while caring for Zar, her favorite borzoi, and the other precious dogs that are bred for the Tzar. Learning about this special breed through O'Brien's personal experiences and substantive research produce rich historical fiction. Further guidance about the period is given by specific resources: Author's Note, Afterward by Russian Professor Woronzoff-Dashkoff of Smith College, Glossary, and Bibliography. In addition, readers will connect with a wide range of Lara's emotions sharing a tear or two when she fends off a hungry pack of wolves, and deals with jealousy, growing up, reaching for dreams, and fulfilling her destiny. However, it is Lara's unique gift of "visions" that become integral to this profound, endearing story. Rich details about the heart and soul of raising Borzoi dogs shine like a secure beacon in the midst of life's evolving circumstances and one's own life journey. Reviewer: Susan Treadway
Kirkus Reviews
On a remote estate in 1910s Russia, Lara must prove herself capable of following in her father's footsteps as the head of a prestigious borzoi breeding kennel. There are so many things between her and the realization of her dream. That she is female is the biggest obstacle, but she must also hide the fact that she has visions of future occurrences that involve the dogs and the dangerous wolves that populate the estate. She has strong relationships with the dogs, especially with Ryczar, Zar for short, whom she has saved from being culled. But Lara will lose all she has dreamed of should her mother bear a son. When her baby brother is born, she is told that she must be trained in other skills useful for finding a husband. Many adventures involving wolf packs provide tests of Lara's intelligence, resourcefulness and courage, and her father realizes that her special gifts are to be cherished. Lara's first-person narration allows readers an intense depth of understanding and empathy. O'Brien has created a cast of fully realized characters in a historical setting that comes alive in vivid descriptions and lively dialogue, with just the right incorporation of Russian words to add authentic flavor. The time period is problematical, but children won't realize that Lara's world will soon come to a crashing end. Engrossing and powerful. (author's note, afterword, bibliography, glossary) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
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Random House
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File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
10 Years

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Meet the Author

ANNEMARIE O'BRIEN has an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She teaches writing courses at UC Berkeley and Stanford. Before that, she worked for many years in Russia, where she got her first borzoi dog. Annemarie lives in Northern California with her two daughters and two borzoi dogs.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Lara's Gift 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
NPilet More than 1 year ago
Lara is growing up in tsarist Russia and has the privilege of being part of Count Votontsov's household assisting her dad with the Count's kennel of borzoi dogs. She looks forward to the day when she will be the next kennel steward taking over for her dad. When her mom gives birth to a boy, all of her dreams seem to be shattered.  There is so much about this book that I loved. Her relationship with her parents though rocky is close and deep. Her passion for the dogs and specifically for her borzoi, Zar, is beautiful. How she deals with her gift and comes to accept and value it has great meaning for any young person who reads this book and has their own special gift and is struggling to find meaning and value in it.  I could not put it down and then could not wait to hand it to someone else to read. Beautiful, touching story. I received this book for free from GoodReads First Reads.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a fantastic book for me to read. It had so many nuances and layers, but very easy to read. In fact it only took me half a day to read this (I'm not a very fast reader either). I loved all the character's in here as I loved Lara's quest to be seen as someone important to her father and to the kennel. Lara's love for her dog was cute and I felt for her during every scene, especially her dog Zar's quest to get after The Red Thief! Everything felt so real that I thought I was watching a movie and not reading a book. This was a very entertaining read I would recommend to everyone esp dog lovers. But this book is more than that, I think kids would love it too because they can relate to Lara. Also, if you're having trouble with the Russian phrases sparsed in between sentences, there is a glossary at the end of the book. It wasn't obtrusive, though. Anyway, great read and I hope this author writes more books in the future! I gotta say that this is one of those rare times where first person narration didn't feel as self-indulgent like other first person narrations I've read. Every scene was important and I never skipped any paragraphs. Very, very good job!! I wish I could give 10 stars.