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Reviewed by:
  • Mother Tongue by Julie Mayhew
  • Deborah Stevenson, Editor
Mayhew, Julie Mother Tongue. Candlewick, 2019 [304p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-5362-0263-2 $16.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-5362-0653-1 $16.99
Reviewed from galleys Ad Gr. 9-12

Darya’s life in her small Russian town changes when she’s eighteen and her little sister, Nika, goes off to school, to be killed along with hundreds more in a terrorist bombing. Darya’s devastated at the loss—due to her mother’s mental illness, Darya had been Nika’s de facto mother—and also thrown by the changes in her troubled family. An American journalist helps her obtain her dream of going to Moscow, but once there she’s quickly in over her head, failing to realize that she’s being taken advantage of and put in danger by a seemingly helpful young woman she meets. Based on the 2004 Beslan school siege that ended up with nearly 200 children dead, the book writes with perceptive detail of the impact of such a tragedy, ranging from the slow identification of victims to the ripple effects on survivors. Darya’s dreams of an adult life in the big city are credible, as is her blindness to her [End Page 28] manipulation by her street-smart new friend once she gets there. However, Darya is an emotionally cool narrator whose story informs more than moves; her adventure in Moscow and its hints of her descent toward the sex trade don’t mesh well with the story of the tragedy in her home town, and her psychological journey is hard to follow. It’s still a picture of a world region youth literature largely overlooks and a tragedy that much of the world has been able to forget, and Darya’s longing for a life of autonomy and respectability is relatable. Background knowledge of Russia will make reading easier; a glossary and information on Russian nomenclature helps fill the gap.