Angel on the Square

Angel on the Square

by Gloria Whelan

Paperback(First Harper Trophy Edition)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780064408790
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/07/2003
Series: Russian Saga Series , #1
Edition description: First Harper Trophy Edition
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 296,296
Product dimensions: 5.12(w) x 7.62(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

Gloria Whelan is the bestselling author of many novels for young readers, including Homeless Bird, winner of the National Book Award; Fruitlands: Louisa May Alcott Made Perfect; Angel on the Square; Burying the Sun; Once on This Island, winner of the Great Lakes Book Award; and Return to the Island. She lives in the woods of northern Michigan.

Read an Excerpt

Angel on the Square PLMChapter One

St. Petersburg
Winter 1913

I could feel the crowd holding its breath, awaiting the moment when Tsar Nikolai II and Empress Alexandra would arrive. On this February day all of St. Petersburg was celebrating three hundred years of rule by the Romanov Tsars. How I longed to be with Mama. As a special friend of the Empress, she was already in the cathedral. I burrowed deeper into my fur-lined coat to escape the winter winds that swept across Russia all the way from icy Siberia. The soft warmth of the coat curled around me like a friendly cat. From the balcony of our mansion Misha and I looked across St. Petersburg's main avenue, the Nevsky Prospekt, to the Kazan Cathedral. The cathedral's two wings seemed to gather in all of St. Petersburg.

Imperial carriages and shiny black chauffeured automobiles rolled up to the cathedral's entrance. Grand dukes in military uniform and grand duchesses in court gowns and diamond tiaras stepped onto the red carpet.

The city of St. Petersburg itself was dressed in an ermine robe of snow, its frozen river and canals glittering like the duchesses' diamonds. In the distance the sun shone on the brightly colored domes of the Church of the Resurrection. "Look, Misha," I said, "The domes look like a tumble of crown jewels."

He scowled. "You are a romantic child, Katya. When I look at that church, what I see is Alexander's blood."

"Misha, that was years ago," I scolded. The church was built on the spot where Tsar Alexander II, Tsar Nikolai's grandfather, had been assassinated. When Mama was only a baby, she witnessed the terrible scene. Her papa held her up to see Tsar Alexanderonly seconds before the bomb went off. Even now, after so many years, she trembled when she told the story. "No one thinks of such things now," I said, but Misha's expression did not change. Misha would not let himself be happy. He was cheerful only when he was worrying himself to death.

Misha, whose proper name was Mikhail Sergeyevich Gnedich, was sixteen and thought he was a man. He attended the Tenishev School and lived with us, for his mama was my mama's dearest friend, as close to Mama as a sister. Misha's papa died bravely for Russia in a naval battle in faraway Manchuria. His mama died soon after of typhoid, though some said it was of a broken heart. When I was four, my own papa died in that war. Though Mama was very sad, she did not die like Misha's mother.

Misha was tall. He was also thin, and he looked as though he did not eat much, which was not true, because he ate all the time. He took such large portions, the footman who served him had to fight to keep a smile from his face. Misha had blond hair, which he smoothed down with water to tame the curls, so he always looked like he just came out of a bath.The naughty thing about Misha was that he was forever criticizing our beloved Tsar, which made everyone furious with him. Once Mama sent Misha away from the table for blaming the Tsar for the war in which his papa and my papa died.

Afterward, when I stole upstairs to Misha's room to take him food, Misha said, "It is time the Tsar let the people decide for themselves what is best for their country.""You are wrong," I said. "How can the people decide when they are uneducated and ignorant?"

Misha asked angrily, "Whose fault is it that they are uneducated?"

I told Misha that the Tsar, whom everyone called "Tsar-batyushev," "little father," was God's representative on earth and must surely know what was best for Russia. Misha's ideas were dangerous, and I worried that they would get him into trouble.

Now Misha turned away from the balcony. "I'm going down into the street with the people," he said, and added in a sarcastic tone, "I want to hear what they are saying on this glorious occasion."

"Misha, take me with you," I coaxed.

"With your fancy clothes and your furs?" He shook his head."Wait a moment," I pleaded. "I'll borrow something from the servants' hall."The servants were all at the windows watching the ceremony, so it was a simple thing to snatch an old wool cloak from its peg and slip away unseen. It must have belonged to a cook, because it smelled of onions and vinegar. There was little warmth in the cloak, for the wool was worn and thin.

Misha gave me one of his disapproving looks when I returned. "You must always have your own way, Katya. Your mother spoils you." That taunt was an old story with Misha. I paid no attention but followed him out a side door, hurrying to keep up, for he was stalking on ahead, pretending not to know me.

I had been on the Nevsky Prospekt hundreds of times, but always with Mama or my governess, Lidya. Never before had I seen such crowds. When I finally caught up, I hung on to Misha. As the people pressed against me, I whispered to him, "They smell."Under his breath Misha hissed, "They have no soap, and for that matter how much water can you carry up four flights of stairs?"

"Everyone has water in their houses," I protested.

"You are a fool, Katya. You know nothing of the world." He shook off my hand and pushed his way to the front of the crowd. The sun disappeared behind dark clouds. A wet snow began to fall. I pulled the thin cloak more closely about me.

An old babushka with no teeth held up a picture of the Tsar and Empress. Children waved small Russian flags, hopping from one foot to the other to keep warm. The cannons from the Peter and Paul Fortress sounded a twenty-one-gun salute. Cheers grew into a roar . . .

Angel on the Square PLM. Copyright © by Gloria Whelan. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Reading Group Guide


Angel on the Square is an elegant and insightful novel about an aristocratic girl's experience of the Russian Revolution. As the daughter of one of the Empress's ladies-in-waiting, young Katya is sheltered from much of Russia's turmoil. Her coming-of-age in the shadow of one of history's darkest times is a political and personal awakening that is at once enlightening and universal.

Discussion Questions

  1. At the beginning of the book, Katya and Misha have very different opinions about what is happening in Russia. Can you describe these differences? What do you think makes each so certain that their idea is right?

  2. Misha is certain that most Russians are not happy. Why does he believe this? Are there any indications in the text that this is the case?

  3. What is your opinion of the Tzar and Empress? How well do you think they performed as rulers? Do you think they could have done something to have avoided the revolution?

  4. What is significant about the angel on the square?

  5. What are your impressions of Rasputin? Was the Empress wrong to seek his counsel? Do you think he helped or harmed the country?

  6. On page 172, Mama tells Katya, "The country may be better off…but when it takes a murder to save a country, nothing will save it." What do you think she means?

  7. As a result of the war, how has Katya changed emotionally and intellectually? How does she see her future?

  8. How has the ordeal of fighting in a war and witnessing the revolution changed the way Misha sees the future of Russia?

  9. Katya andMisha's opinions about Russian politics had been so different. Has that changed by the end of the novel? How and why?

About the author

Gloria Whelan is a poet and the award-winning author of many books for young readers, including Homeless Bird, for which she was awarded the National Book Award for Young People's Literature, Miranda's Last Stand, and The Island Trilogy. She lives with her husband, Joseph, in the woods of northern Michigan.

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Angel on the Square 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 42 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read Angel on the Square when I was ten and I absolutely loved it! The Romanov family and the history behind them is just so fascinating! This family is my favorite royal family. The story behind them just draws you in. I highly recommend this book.
Mdesmondobrien More than 1 year ago
How do you describe the magnetism some books have when you're half-asleep at eleven p.m. looking for something to read? This book appeared on my bedside table one day, probably rescued from 10-year-old sister and 6-year-old brother's perpetual room cleaning, and somehow "I'll read a page or two" turned into the whole book. Go figure. It's a book we were supposed to study in our homeschool group one summer, only I moved. Somehow I still ended up with a copy, and with my friends back at my old home telling me it was the best book I'd ever read, I knew I'd have to make time for it eventually. It's one of those blurbless books, though, the ones that rely on the author's name to propel them into readers' hands, and let's face it - I was seven. I didn't care about authors, I cared about stories. So imagine my surprise when I finally picked it up and discovered, miracle of miracles, a story. Not just any story, but a Story. As I re-read descriptions of wealthy Katya's life in St. Petersburg, the incredible luxury of the Winter Palace, a parade of mouthwatering clothing and food descriptions to put The Hunger Games to shame, it all came flooding back how crushingly disappointed I had been when the Russian Revolution came, like I'd known it was going to even at seven. It's like when you watch the Titanic, and every time you pray you don't sink - some dreams feel too good to end. With each consecutive re-read, at eight years old, nine, ten, twelve, I'd usually put the book down at right about the start of World War I. Last night, though, I plowed straight through to the end, and to my surprise found that I liked the end better than the beginning, even though it made me cry. Go figure. This is one of those rare books where the characters grow up with you - Katya from a sheltered brat to a confused teen to a compassionate woman. While my head didn't particularly thank me for my up-till-one-in-the-morning stunt, I can't say I've found a better book to re-read in a long time. And now that the author does actually mean something to me, I'll have to find the rest of Gloria Whelan's work; though I'm not sure I'll love any setting quite as much as I loved her Russia.
foggidawn on LibraryThing 7 months ago
The book tells the story of Katya, daughter to a fictional lady-in-waiting to Empress Alexandra of Russia, during the turbulent days leading up to the Bolshevik Revolution. Katya and her mother remain with the family until they are removed to Ykaterinburg, at which point they flee to their country estate.I think this would be a good introduction to Russian history for young teens who don't already know all of the gristly details of the end of the Romanov family -- for those who do, I'm not sure it's such a satisfying read. I felt that Katya, the main character, was not as dynamic as she could have been. Neither her character growth nor her romantic interest felt very compelling to me, but perhaps I would have felt differently if I had been reading, rather than listening to the audio version of the story.
Whisper1 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Continuing my journey to study Russian history, I found this book on one of my shelves and spent a pleasant rainy day reading this well written historical novel.Combining fact with fiction, Angel on the Square is wonderful for many reasons, primarily because it does just what historical fiction should do, ie it opens the door to a glimpse of history and wets the appetite to search for more knowledge about the subject.Twelve year old Katya Ivanova lived a life of splendor behind guilded palace walls. Her life was secluded and sheltered. When her mother becomes the lady-in-waiting to Empress Alexandra life drastically changes and through Katya's eyes we witness the growing tension in Russia as the Tsar suppresses the masses, embraces WWI and through sheer ineptitude ushers in the downfall of a culture and country rich in tradition.As she continues a life of priviledge, through her young, naive revolutionary friend Misha, she becomes aware of the plight of the masses of poor, starving and increasingly dissatisfied pheasants.Through Katya's eyes we witness a country crumbling as the rich become the enemies and the poor are used as pawns in the hands of the revolutionaries and Lenin.This book presents a well balanced depiction of the evils of a monarchy out of touch with the unrest of the masses while also showing the madness of a brutal group who portray themselves as wanting the best for the people while ruthlessly using and then discarding those they claim to represent.Angel on the Square is more than a YA coming of age book, it is complex, intricate and multifaceted.Recommended!
joririchardson on LibraryThing 8 months ago
This beautifully written, endearing story is one of my favorites by Gloria Whelan. The way she vividly portrays characters, emotions, settings, and events is what makes this book so good. The main character is memorable and very realistic.I also loved how she mixes in the famous story of the Romanov family with the plot of the book.A very good book!
Jmmott on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Engaging historical fiction set just before and during the Russian Revolution from the point of view of an aristocratic girl who knew the grand duchesses. The book focuses on her realization that her entire world is changing, and how her cousin is sympathetic to the revolutionary cause. It's the first in a series of four books set in St. Petersburg.
kewpie on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Katya lived in Imperial Russa in 1913. She was of the noble class. Her mother was a lady in waiting to Empress Alexandra. They lived within the palace walls in amazing oppulance. Her life was one of luxury and she barely understood the complaints of the working poor. She was not aware how tired, hungry and angry the peasants were. As the revolution begins, her life becomes daily more affected by it until she lives in poverty and fears for her life. Whelan's writing is excellent and she creates a tale more fascinating and exotic than a fairy tale fantasy. She makes her characters feel real to the reader.
mentormom on LibraryThing 10 months ago
My kids and I recently read, Angel On The Square, for my daughters' book group. Katya, a young Russian aristocrat, and her cousin Misha both lost their fathers during the last war. While Katya and her mother Irena are loyal to the Czar, Misha supports the revolutionary leader, Alexander Kerensky. Misha takes Katya out among the peasants and for the first time she sees the poverty and degradation in which they live.Eventually, Irena sends Misha to the military academy due to his involvement with the revolutionaries. When the Empress asks Irena to become her lady-in-waiting, Irena and Katya move to the Alexander Palace to live with the royal family. Katya becomes close to the Grand Duchesses and looks upon the Czar as a father. But she still cannot reconcile the exploitation she saw among the peasants.When World War I breaks out with Germany, Misha's class at the military academy is graduated early and he is sent into battle. The war is a disaster and Russia suffers many losses. The Czar goes to the battle front and leaves the Empress to rule Russia. After several years at war, the civil unrest escalates. The peasants, unhappy with the war and the Empress's rule, are ready for revolution. The Czar abdicates the throne hoping to save Russia and Kerensky heads the Russian government. For several months the royal family, along with Katya and Irena, live under house arrest until they are eventually sent to Siberia. In Siberia, still under house arrest, they find out that Kerensky's revolutionary government has been overthrown by the Bolsheviks and Lenin now heads the government. The royal family is taken away and Katya and Irena are not allowed to stay.Katya and her mother cannot return to St. Petersburg due to the danger all aristocrats are under so they go to their country estate, The Oaks. They arrive only to find the estate has been burned by the peasants who worked their land. They are taken in by a peasant couple and Katya begins learning how to farm the land. Katya and her mother begin their new lives as peasants and are soon reunited with Misha.The kids and I really enjoyed this book. After finishing it, my daughter bemoaned the sad ending. We were able to discuss the history behind the book and how the author had to end with the death of the royal family because Lenin really did have them killed. This book gave us some meaty discussion topics: divine right of kings, revolution, strikes, riots, Russia, monarchy, aristocracy, peasants, georgics, WWI, and Communism. We also discussed the difference between the American Revolution, the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution and why each ended differently. Angel On The Square also inspired us to do some of our own research to learn more about Rasputin, the Empress's adviser, the death of the royal family, and the Bolshevik Revolution.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this in elementary school and I have never forgotten it. Katya shows amazing strength and resilience in the face of overwhelming odds and still manages to retain her innate goodness and compassion.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Angle on the square. I highly recomend this fantastic book
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Tade Goddard More than 1 year ago
This book was really good. I had to read it in school last year because we were studying that era. I remember the whole class had to read it and a lot of people thought it was going to be lame and all the others ( oncluding me) did not think it was going to be the worst book ever but we were not exactly excited about it. We were ALL suprised! Everyone LOVED it even the people that do not get into books. If anyone is thinking about reading this, I say do not think twice... get it for sure.
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