Award-winning writer Katrina Nannestad won my heart with her incredible book, We Are Wolves. In this new historical fiction, she transports us to Russia and into the life of Sasha, a soldier at only six years old, inspired by a real life boy who lost his family and home in WWII and became an adopted member of a Russian army unit.
Written in flashback style, Sasha’s story is told from his hospital bed in Berlin, after the war, where he has lost the power of speech. As he begins to heal, he steals a series of objects from the wards and staff, which hold special significance for him. With the help of the doctor, through these objects, he recalls the experiences he has had and the impacts these events have had on him in the present. These are slowly revealed, layer by layer, through these precious objects he has gathered, which cleverly reference the title of the book.
Wood splinters and Mama screams and the nearest soldier seizes her roughly by the arms. My sister pokes her bruised face out from beneath the table and shouts, ‘Run, Sasha! Run!’
So I run. I run like a rabbit.
It’s spring, 1942. The sky is blue, the air is warm and sweet with the scent of flowers. And then everything is gone. The flowers, the proud geese, the pretty wooden houses, the friendly neighbours. Only Sasha remains. But one small boy, alone in war-torn Russia, cannot survive. One small boy without a family cannot survive. One small boy without his home cannot survive. What that small boy needs is an army.
Katrina is a master at weaving humour and joy into the darkest of moments. Her beautiful writing style evokes the setting and environment in a crisp and visceral way. The events contained in the story are devastating, but she manages to leave the reader with hope, offering lighter, funny scenes, amongst the terrible realities of war.
Sasha is a boy who is brave and thoughtful and filled with love. He will be 9 by the end of the story and there are many lessons he learns and many lessons he teaches the adults he meets along the way, as he hides in trenches, cuts hair, helps cook some questionable meals, finds family amongst terror, and brings complete joy to all those who meet him, always remembering that love is the most important thing. Sasha ultimately learns to challenge his beliefs about the monstrous enemy and learns that there are always two sides to war. One of things I found interesting was the perspective of the Russian soldiers in this story, against the German perspective in We Are Wolves. They would be excellent for children to read together and to consider the different perspectives.
Recommended for a mature middle-grade audience, 10 – 14 years – due to the themes and events of war. Would be lovely read aloud as a group and it is important to discuss the issues raised in the story with child readers.
The book has quite rightly won a number of awards and is available in all good book stores.
Winner – The Indie Book Awards 2022 (Children’s)
Shortlisted – CBCA 2022 (Younger Reader’s Book)
Shortlisted – ABA Bookseller’s Choice 2022 Book of the Year Awards (Children’s)
Shortlisted – ABIAs 2022 (Book of the Year for Younger Children)