A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Kids will learn a lot about life in Ukraine when Stalin was the leader of the Soviet Union. Words and phrases in Ukrainian and Russian, daily life in Kyiv, and important cultural and religious practices. They'll also learn about the famine that killed millions of Ukrainians, what caused it, some of the brutality of Stalin's policies, and the political atmosphere at the time. They'll also learn a lot about journalism: what it is, what reporters do, how it works, why it's important, and why identifying reliable news sources is important. They'll gain an understanding of the impact sheltering in place during the height of the Covid-19 outbreak had on kids and families. The Author's Note details personal family history that inspired some of the story and further details of Stalinist history including statistics about deaths in Ukraine and some insight into Soviet politics at the time.
People's stories matter. Telling them is important, even if not everyone believes them, because stories are powerful, and sharing them is even more powerful. Disinformation is also very powerful and dangerous.
Positive Role Models
All three narrators, Mila, Helen, and Matthew, are strong, positive models of compassion, empathy, communication, and perseverance. They all want to know the truth, and Helen and Matthew especially want everyone to know the truth about the famine in Ukraine. They all genuinely care about others and do everything they can to help.
All characters read as White. All main characters are members of the same family from Ukraine. A minor character is Jewish. There are two single-parent households, one of which is multigenerational.
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Violence & Scariness
Scariness and upsetting imagery involving specific but not gory descriptions of starving people; watching loved ones die of starvation; state-sponsored theft and brutality; and punishments like enslavement or being shot for people suspected of being enemies of the state. Parental separation and loss are strong themes. Important characters die. The only violence directly narrated is a schoolyard fight with punching, kicking, hitting with a book bag, and a bloody nose. It ends quickly and there are not consequences. An excerpt from another book at the end describes being in danger of drowning.
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Products & Purchases
Nintendo Switch, specific gameplay in the Zelda franchise narrated, Ensure, The New York Times, and a few brands of candy and chocolate.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
An adult mentions another is "a drunk." That person's breath reeks of vodka and cigarettes. An adult drinks from a flask.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Lost Year is historical fiction about tragic events in Ukraine in the early 1930s, narrated by three different tweens in two different eras. The real-life, massive, deliberate starvation of millions of people in Ukraine is the framework for the story, and there are a few harrowing but not gory descriptions of people who are starving and who die of starvation. Dumping bodies of loved ones in mass graves is mentioned, along with mentioning enslavement and execution by shooting for being accused as an enemy of the state. Important characters die. Separation from parents is a strong theme. The only violence directly narrated is a schoolyard fight that mentions punching, kicking, and a bloody nose. Sheltering in place because of the Covid-19 pandemic is also an important part of the story. An adult mentions that another is "a drunk," a child smells vodka and cigarettes on his breath, and he drinks from a flask.
Is It Any Good?
This is an absorbing, haunting, and moving story about tragic events that many readers may not have known about. But The Lost Year handles the sadness, grief, and tragedy gracefully. Author Katherine Marsh doesn't shy away from the strong feelings, but she doesn't dwell on them for too long, either.
The three tween narrators and the large cast of characters, from 1930s Kyiv and Brooklyn to 2020s New Jersey, are all believable and easy to root for. It also provides a lot of food for thought, not just about the tragedy itself but about other important issues like journalism, family, stories, survival, and more.
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Our Editors Recommend
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