"Taking a little-known historical event for its context, Durbin’s historical fiction is every bit as exciting as the best adventure tale." —Kirkus Reviews
"Readers who enjoy tales of courage under fire . . . will find this exciting stuff." —Booklist
"Durbin writes historical fiction for young people better than just about anyone." —St. Paul Pioneer Press
Jake and his family live in a Finnish mining community in Minnesota, but his father, a dedicated Socialist, is determined to move them to the Soviet Union. The year is 1934, and Jake's father dreams of escaping Depression-era America and living in a workers' paradise. The reality is quite different, as they discover upon arrival in a logging camp in Karelia, near Finland. The deprivation and hardship are bad enough, but when Father is reassigned to a ski factory in the town of Petrozavodsk in 1935 danger awaits as well, in the form of the secret police: they can arrest anyone at any time, and imprison people without a trial. Speaking one's mind can mean never being heard from again. First Jake's older brother is taken away, and then his father. Jake, an expert skier, decides to flee to Finland over the snow with his mother and little sister, and in an exciting climax they manage to get away to safety. A historical note at the end by Durbin, author of several other historical novels for YAs, tells more about this terrible time of the "Red broom," when Stalin and his Communist Party swept away anyone perceived as a threat: ironically, immigrants like Jake's family were particularly at risk. Some background in Soviet history might help young readers appreciate this story more, but they will certainly come to understand the danger and difficulty of life in that place and time and be thrilled by Jake's daring escape. KLIATT Codes: JRecommended for junior high school students. 2004, Scholastic, Orchard, 240p., Ages 12 to 15.
It is 1934. Unemployment is spreading, and America no longer seems like the land of prosperity it once did to the Makis. Recruiters are making frequent visits to their Finnish immigrant community, espousing the virtues of Karelia, a Communist Finnish state being established in the Soviet Union. Mr. Maki has long been interested in moving to Karelia; when Mrs. Maki hears about the musical and educational opportunities that would be available to their children there, she agrees to take their American-born children and resettle in the Communist state. Baseball-loving Jake hates the idea, but he cannot change his father's mind. Almost before he knows it, the passports are secured, the furniture is sold, and the family is on their way. After a long voyage across the sea, they arrive in Karelia. It is a land very different from what they were promised. Is this the Communist dream Jake's father has long favored? Why are goods really not distributed equally? Who are the NKVD, and what happens to the people they take from their homes in the middle of the night? Most important, how will the Makis survive? William Durbin's novel brings together a chilling period in history with one boy's determination to help his family overcome danger. Through the course of this story, the easy-going boy whose biggest worries were pick-up baseball games and All-Star statistics matures into a strong-willed person who is the key to his family's escape from oppression. 2004, Orchard/Scholastic, Ages 12 to 16.
Heidi Hauser Green
Jake Maki's secure American life in a small Minnesota town ends in 1934 when Russian recruiters persuade his father to emigrate to a newly established Finnish state in the Soviet Union. Lured by the socialist ideals of equal benefits for all, steady employment, and free education, the Makis sell everything and make the long journey. Upon their arrival, they are faced with squalid living conditions-sour rye bread and cabbage soup, bedbugs, unpaved streets, theft, and disorder. An official barks, "What did you expect, a castle? This is a test, not some capitalist vacation!" The family carries on despite growing disappointment, disillusionment, and broken promises. Jake bitterly compares his new life to the one he left behind. Unlike at his former school with its friendly teachers and his beloved baseball, here the new instructors sternly espouse the merits of Joseph Stalin. Suspicion lies all around, and government authorities question and search the homes of anyone who complains or speaks out. When Jake's older brother, Peter, is arrested, and then his father, a friend helps Jake, his mother, and little sister plan a bold escape on skis across the Russian border to Finland. Readers who enjoy Gary Paulsen's books will be drawn to this adventure story based on real historical events. Durbin builds his tale around solid research and interviews with a woman who experienced firsthand what Jake's family did. The writing is fast paced, and the escape is especially suspenseful because the family's fate remains in doubt until the last page. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High,defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2004, Orchard, 240p., Ages 11 to 18.
At the height of the Depression, when it seemed capitalism had failed, "Karelian fever" spread among Finnish-American communities in the northern US and Canada. Attracted by a sense of adventure and the dream of creating an independent Finnish republic in Russia, six thousand North American Finns migrated. Jake Maki's father, a socialist blacklisted for joining the IWW union, moves his family to Russia, but conditions in Russia are terrible. Then Stalin's purges begin, and the "Red broom" of totalitarianism sweeps away all who might oppose the Communist Party. Friends start disappearing, and Jake's older brother and father are arrested. Jake, his little sister Maija, and his mother are aided in a thrilling escape, skiing north to Finland. Taking a little-known historical event for its context, Durbin's historical fiction is every bit as exciting as the best adventure tale, as Jake must prove his sisu, the Finnish word for intelligence and courage that allows one to survive. Readers will learn an important side of 20th-century history as they root for Jake. (Fiction. 10-14)