The Raven's Children by Yulia Yakovleva
Puffin, 2018. ISBN 9780241330777
(Age: 11-15+) Recommended. Stalin's Russia is a dark and foreboding place, where the walls literally have ears and eyes. The imagery is all about the secret police and the threat of the 'Ravens' taking the 'enemy' away is always present. People are watching, no one can be trusted.
Shura lives blissfully unaware in this world with his parents, older sister Tanya and baby brother Bobka until both his father, mother and brother are taken away.
Shura decides to find his missing family with his sister and confront the 'Raven'.
This book combines both historical events and fantasy to tell Shura's story. It is a harsh and uncaring world seven-year-old Shura tries to survive and the adults are only there to punish and incarcerate him.
This is a dark story based on the family experiences of the author. At times there seems to be no kindness or love in the world and the reader despairs for Shura and his family. The use of fantasy softens the story and birds are a constant imagery, often talking to Shura.
At times I found this a difficult book to read and needed breaks from Shura's world. I feel children will understand that Shura is on a quest and that he experiences a dark and unfriendly world but they will not have a historical perspective of this time. The real world is mixed with fantasy giving the story a dreamlike quality. The ending offers hope for the future but does not answer all the questions the book poses.
I recommend this book to 11 to 15+ year olds, especially to students who have read The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.