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Rachel's Secret

Overview

Set in pre-revolutionary Russia, where tensions are high between the Jewish and Christian populations. Rachel, who is a Jew, and Sergei, a Christian, find their worlds torn apart by violence as lies about Jews leap off the pages of the local newspaper. Vicious riots break out on Easter Sunday, 1903, and when they finally end, almost three days later, Rachel finds that the person she loves most is dead and that her home has been destroyed. As she struggles to survive the aftermath of the riots—or pogroms—support ...

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Overview

Set in pre-revolutionary Russia, where tensions are high between the Jewish and Christian populations. Rachel, who is a Jew, and Sergei, a Christian, find their worlds torn apart by violence as lies about Jews leap off the pages of the local newspaper. Vicious riots break out on Easter Sunday, 1903, and when they finally end, almost three days later, Rachel finds that the person she loves most is dead and that her home has been destroyed. As she struggles to survive the aftermath of the riots—or pogroms—support comes from someone totally unexpected, as Sergei turns against his father to help Rachel. With everything against them, the two young people don't want to fight the bond that is growing between them, one of the few signs of goodness and hope in a time of chaos and violence.

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Editorial Reviews

Booklist
[Starred review] "Basing the story on historical record, Sanders weaves a tale of catastrophe stemming from unbridled hatred, spreading of untruths, and lack of commitment to public safety on the part of officials...In an artful way throughout this absorbing, chilling tale, characters wonder what can stop the tragedy of hatred from overcoming community, a question that will prompt readers to wonder the same."
CM Magazine
"First-time novelist Shelly Sanders masterfully reconstructs life in early 20th century Russia. And the skillful integration of the small details of daily life (the food, clothing, dwellings and activities) into a plot that is about to boil over, makes for a very rich reading experience...Rachel's Secret would be an excellent addition to a middle school or junior high school study of racism...Sanders should be commended for her ability to provide the shocking facts of this story while keeping her young adult audience in mind. Highly Recommended."
Resource Links
"Written in a realistic style with details of the time lending authenticity...Rachel's Secret tells an important story of an historical event seems to be overlooked in children's fiction."
Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter
The well-written story gives readers a good portrayal of what life was like for Jews in pre-Revolutionary Russia...The author's vividly-drawn characters bring the historical period to life while personalizing the story.
Association of Jewish Libraries
"The well-written story gives readers a good portrayal of what life was like for Jews in pre-Revolutionary Russia...The author's vividly-drawn characters bring the historical period to life while personalizing the story."
VOYA - Marilyn Brien
Rachel, a Jewish teen, finds herself in the midst of the swirl of anti-Jewish propaganda that preceded the 1903 Easter riots in Kishinev, Russia. She has witnessed a horrible crime and fears reporting it to the authorities. She shares her secret only with her sister and Sergei, a Christian boy. This exciting story is inspired by actual events in the 1903 riots that left death and upheaval in the Jewish community. Exchanges between Sergei and Rachel show the lack of understanding between the Christian community and the marginalized Jewish community, yet the common bond of adolescence links them. Both teens are torn between personal ambitions and responsibilities as members of a family or community. This is an excellent candidate for a classroom study in social studies or language arts as well as individual reading for pleasure. The conflicts portrayed in this episode span time and cultures. Several threads could be pursued to enrich the students' understanding of conflicts regarding ethnicity, religion, and demonization of groups of people. The quotes from newspaper accounts in 1903 Russia are chilling in their lack of journalistic responsibility for publishing the truth. The weaving of the personal with the historic is skillful and thought-provoking. This one is a must for a library serving youth. Hopefully, more books will follow from this author. Reviewer: Marilyn Brien
School Library Journal
Gr 5–10—On April 6, 1903, the Russian city of Kishinev erupted in violence as a mob of Christians descended upon the Jews, slaughtering many and leaving hundreds wounded. The catalyst for the riot was the murder of a Christian boy, Mikhail Rybachenko. After his death, the local newspaper began publishing reports that Jews were responsible. Soon rumors ran rampant in the city, inciting hatred. In this novel based on that event, 14-year-old Rachel, a Jewish girl, witnesses the murder and knows that Mikhail's uncle killed him, but is too terrified to tell what she saw. Sergei, a Christian and friend of the victim, is attracted to her, and she eventually confesses her secret to him. He plans to tell his police-chief father, believing that he will take care of everything. However, his father dismisses his claims and does nothing to stop the resulting riots. Rachel and Sergei are left feeling haunted by their inability to do anything. This is a compelling story about an unfamiliar historical event, but there is very little character development. Rachel and Sergei do not spend enough time together to have formed the bond the author suggests. Conversations are stilted and plot twists are unrealistic. However, the novel holds its value as an informational story that historical-fiction fans will appreciate.—Wendy Scalfaro, G. Ray Bodley High School, Fulton, NY
Kirkus Reviews
This novelization of the 1903 Kishinev pogrom graphically describes the carnage as Christian Russians slaughter their Jewish fellow townspeople. Three protagonists startlingly reduce to two when one, a Christian 14-year-old, is stabbed to death by his uncle, who covets the family tobacco business. Over the following months, Kishinev's newspaper Bessarabetz whips the city into a frenzy by claiming that Jews murdered Mikhail to use his blood for baking matzah, urging, "we need to come together, fellow Christians, to purge our town of Jews." The narrative shifts focus between Rachel and Sergei, friends of Mikhail, for the lead up to, climax and aftermath of the pogrom. Rachel is Jewish: Rioters butcher her father and neighbors in front of her, smash houses and businesses and upend her world. Sergei is Russian Orthodox. Although son of the look-the-other-way police chief, Sergei steadfastly repudiates the blood libel but, as a 14-year-old, can't prevent the slaughter. Sanders' debut has generic prose and occasional anachronisms, but nonetheless adeptly conveys the history, from Mikhail Rybachenko's real name to the bitter bigotry and bloodbath. One odd misstep: The text paints Rachel's titular "secret"--her knowledge of Mikhail's true murderer--as crucially important, as if that information could, in the right hands, have saved lives. But Russia and Eastern Europe's pogroms (including Kishinev's second, in 1905) needed no trigger beyond anti-Semitism. Critical for its underexplored subject. (historical note, glossary) (Historical fiction. 10-15)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781926920375
  • Publisher: Second Story Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/2012
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 1,387,902
  • Age range: 13 - 18 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Shelly Sanders has worked as a freelance writer for almost twenty years. Rachel's Secret was inspired by Shelly's grandmother, a Russian Jew who fled to Shanghai to escape the ongoing pogroms.

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