A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this book is a fictionalized diary of Tsar Nicholas II's four daughters in the final years of their lives. The novel is based on the author's exhaustive research, but some teens may need help sorting out fact from fiction. The sisters mention but don't really witness any violence, as for the most part they were decently treated even in captivity. There's still some gritty material: As wartime Red Cross nurses, they discuss injured soldiers, amputations, and death -- and the family's ultimate execution is graphically described. Anyone who reads this book will learn a great deal about the Romanov family, although not so much about the revolution that led to their family's demise.
What's the story?
Sarah Miller's historical novel follows the last few years of Russia's final Imperial family, the Romanovs, from the perspective of Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra's four daughters. Each chapter shifts the point of view between the four grand duchesses: smart Olga, doting Tatiana, sweet Maria, and mischievous Anastasia. Starting from the preamble to World War I in 1914 and continuing until the family's execution in 1918, the diary-style entries detail how the sisters handled everything from tending to wounded soldiers to their father's abdication and the subsequent years of house arrest, frightening transfers, and their final days before being executed along with their parents and four loyal staffers.
Is it any good?
After years of extensive research, Miller provides an amazingly detailed fictionalization of how the four grand duchesses spent their final years. Although it's not the most gripping novel at the start, the "action" picks up after the family's faith healer, Grigori Rasputin, is killed and their father abdicates. For many teens, it will be difficult to relate to these young women, who've been brought up in the isolated manner of all royal children, but parts of their story are universal: they long to be free of their constraints; they dote on but are jealous of their spoiled but chronically ill baby brother, Alexei; they love their parents unconditionally; they are closer even than the March girls of Little Women but still fight; they wonder if they'll ever fall in love, marry, have children. In the end, it's the girls' struggle to hold on to the beautifully ordinary aspects of daily family life that will move readers.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why the Romanov family's tragedy continues to be so enthralling. Why are we so interested in doomed characters' stories?
What did you learn about the Russian Revolution and the last Tsar? Do you find it easier to remember history when it is weaved into a fictional format? What are the pros and cons of learning about the world this way?
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