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Vaclav & Lena: A Novel

Vaclav and Lena - Haley Tanner I really enjoyed this book about two young Russian children who find a “home” in each other’s hearts. She is 9, he is 10. The writer has them speaking in the tongue of a foreigner, translating their thoughts directly to English so that the grammar is sometimes convoluted, but the meaning comes through. It is charming, in its way. Although it begins as a kismet-type love story, a deeper story soon develops alongside.
When the story begins, Lena is living with an aunt; she seems rather neglected and frail, often left alone. Her origins are unknown. Her past is fraught with dysfunction, and she eventually finds ways to separate herself into many parts in order to survive.
Vaclav lives in a more normal environment with two loving parents. Before Lena's arrival, his one true love was magic. Afterwards, they both proceed to explore that world together, as their friendship grows.
His mom is the stronger of his two parents and is the major breadwinner. She often assumes responsibility for Lena and tries to protect her. She will do anything to protect her son, as well, and tries to provide him with opportunities she never had, stressing his need for a good education. His father is often crude and sometimes cruel and sarcastic. He was not successful as an architect, even back in Russia. He is not very ambitious and tends to laziness.
Vaclav is an easily likeable character who is warm, open and obedient; Lena is a sympathetic, sad little character who is immature, often secretive. Lena has the capacity to be cruel while Vaclav does not. Both seem very naïve about life and the pitfalls they might face. I found, also, that the author often provided them with thoughts that seemed too mature for them, even as they behaved like children. Two small Russian children are trying to make a life for themselves in a new country that they know nothing about. They are not even comfortable with the language. How can they fit? There are only a few people they can communicate with, and sometimes it is awkward because of the phraseology they choose as they learn to speak English.
The short, vignette-type chapters are easy to read and keep the momentum going in this tale of love and loss, hardship and poverty. The story of how these immigrant families navigate the world is sometimes tender, sometimes anxious and often disturbing, but always underneath, the theme is that Vaclav and Lena are in love.
The author has presented an interesting, creative scenario. I was surprised, at first, by the way the content was presented; it seemed juvenile, but the concepts were not. In the end, it all fit in and you discover you have just read a fairy tale told with modern day issues at the core.
The story is a testament to the power of love. It could possibly be a selection for young adults or good readers, as well as adults, since there is nothing terribly overt, even when tales of abuse are related. Descriptions of sex and wrongdoing are dealt with very simply as are most of the more mature concepts in the tale.
I am not sure this book is for everyone. For me, it was an excellent selection. It completely held my interest, and although it was simplistic, it was a perfect fit for the development of this novel and its purpose.
I do think that the cover could be more interesting. If I did not receive the book from the publisher, it would never have caught my eye. Surely, even a picture of two children holding hands might be more interesting then simply the title of the book with a picture of birds sitting on the ampersand. I think perhaps it was meant to present the fairy tale image, from the get-go, but that didn’t work for me.