Reviews for After the Train

Booklist Reviews 2006 February #1
Gr. 5-8. Living in Leningrad with her parents and grandparents, Tanya tells her story in this, the fourth in a series of twentieth-century historical novels featuring members of the same family in different eras. Tanya's grandfather Georgi was the narrator in Burying the Sun (2004), which took place during the siege of Leningrad in 1941. Fifty years later, Tanya's parents must work hard to put enough food on the table, but political discussion is plentiful in the household, as the Soviet Union is on the verge of enormous change. A young dancer with the Kirov Ballet, Tanya wonders if she will have the courage to defect when the company goes to Paris, as her friend urges her to do. Details of everyday life will help readers picture the settings, people, and events through Tanya's eyes as the story sweeps rapidly along to its inevitable conclusion. Though the young dancer's presence in the Moscow parliament building at the pivotal political moment is not convincing, readers will want to follow her personal struggle as it evolves throughout the book. ((Reviewed February 1, 2006)) Copyright 2006 Booklist Reviews.

Booklist Reviews 2008 December #1
Growing up in Germany in the 1950s, Peter is tired of his eighth-grade teacher droning on about the evils of anti-Semitism and all the bad things the Nazis did. He knows that the Holocaust happened, but why must he hear about it and feel guilty? He just wants to play soccer with his friends and think about the present. Then he discovers that he is adopted and that his birth mother was Jewish and died in a concentration camp. There are many plot contrivances as Peter finds secret files his loving Catholic adoptive parents have kept, including a picture of his birth mother. But the intensity of the issues, the blend of personal conflict and historical facts, and the young teen s present-tense narrative will hold readers as Peter embraces his Judaism, attends synagogue, and confronts the prejudice that continues among classmates and adults. Copyright 2008 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2006 Fall
In 1991 Leningrad, budding Kirov ballerina Tatiana is being tempted to defect by her best friend. Whelan crowds an already busy, if simply written, story with the political fortunes of Gorbachev and Yeltsin. Balletomanes, however, will appreciate the backstage picture of the Kirov Ballet, and the struggle of one dancer to be true to her art and herself. Glos. Copyright 2006 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2006 February #1
Tanya, 16 years old in 1991 and a principal dancer with Leningrad's Kirov Ballet, is both a witness to the events of a dramatic summer and a participant in Russia's fledgling steps toward democracy. Though the events of this story begin just after the Vilnius massacre in Lithuania, Tanya's focus is on the Ballet's upcoming visit to Paris, and on her own tentative plans to defect while there. Rising political tensions are felt in her family's daily discussions of events. The company's stay in Moscow, en route to Paris, gives Tanya an opportunity to convey important information from her grandfather (Georgi, the hero of Whelan's earlier Russian novels) to an official in the Kremlin. While there, she is caught up in the events of the August 19th attempted coup. Whelan deftly covers a lot of territory swiftly and a bit breathlessly, from a look at daily life in the late 20th-century USSR with its ubiquitous poverty and corruption, to a peek at momentous historical events (both Rostropovich and Yevtushenko make an appearance during the siege on the Kremlin) as nearly a century of Soviet hegemony and communism in Russia unravels. (Fiction. 10-14) Copyright Kirkus 2006 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Reviews 2009 January #1
Reductive morality and characterizations muffle the meaningful core of this post-World War II identity crisis. Thirteen-year-old Peter lives in Rolfen, Germany, happily playing soccer and helping his architect father repair St. Mary's Church, which was bombed by the Allies during the war. It's 1955, and Peter's teacher struggles to make his students comprehend Germany's wartime deeds. When Peter, snooping at home, finds some hidden photographs that match his old nightmares of a strange woman, seasoned readers will immediately guess that Peter's adopted, and Jewish. Peter himself is slow to understand, his comprehension dawning in an illogical order. Sometimes Whelan's first-person narration sounds genuinely like it comes from Peter, other times it sounds instructional. Lessons arrive via Whelan's idealized portrayal of Herr Shafer, an unceasingly wise, ever-noble Jewish Holocaust survivor who harbors zero bitterness. The author does a good job examining Peter's identity and establishing the beautiful symbolism of laying bricks to restore buildings, but she oversimplifies Peter's mother and glosses over both Herr Shafer's losses and Peter's father's architectural-but-military service for the Third Reich. (Historical fiction. 8-12) Copyright Kirkus 2009 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2006 February #1
Several new entries continue favorite sagas and series. Gloria Whelan continues her history of Russia, explored through the fictional characters first introduced in Angel in the Square, set in 1913 under Tsar Nikolai II (in a starred review, PW wrote, "Whelan shows both sides of the Russian revolution in a sympathetic light"). In The Turning, readers meet Tatiana, the granddaughter of Georgi, the narrator who faced Germany's WWII invasion of Russia in Burying the Sun. The story picks up just months before the August 1991 coup attempt that led to the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union, as Tatiana, a dancer in the Kirov Ballet, decides whether to defect. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2008 December #4

In 1955 West Germany, 13-year-old Peter thinks WWII and its atrocities are old news. National Book Award winner Whelan (Homeless Bird) loads Peter's summer vacation with big lessons: he helps a kindly Jewish philosophy professor-turned-bricklayer rebuild the town church; fishing in the river that borders East Germany, he and his buddies help a man safely reach the West German side; he overhears anti-Semitic comments and tries to make up for them with a generous gesture. But the biggest discovery is prompted by a recurring nightmare. Unnerved, rifling through his parents' things, Peter finds evidence that he is not their natural child; eventually he learns that he is Jewish, pressed into a stranger's arms just before his birth mother boarded a train for Dachau. The straightforward narrative takes readers through Peter's anguish and confusion, his first lessons in Judaism and his attempts to announce his newfound identity. The plotting is too convenient and the pace unrealistically swift, but middle-graders who are not ready to deal with either a more nuanced presentation or with more brutal truths will like the drama as well as the message of acceptance and hope. Ages 8-12. (Feb.)

[Page 50]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

School Library Journal Reviews 2006 February

Gr 5-8 -In 1991, 17-year-old Tanya is encouraged by Vera, another member of the Kirov Ballet Corps, to defect with her when the company goes on tour to Paris. The teens come from very different backgrounds. Vera’s family is rich because of her father’s black-market dealings, while Tanya’s family has sacrificed a lot to allow her to pursue her career. Vera dreams of escaping the dreariness of the Soviet Union, while her friend thinks of defection as a way to better her career opportunities. Tanya’s personal turmoil and worries are mirrored in the political strife around her. Her grandfather has always been politically active, and there is great excitement as the struggle for power goes on between Gorbachev and Yeltsin. The author has successfully woven Russian history and culture into this story. The day-to-day rivalries and jealousies among the dancers at the ballet company are believable enough to hold readers’ interest. There is also a hint of romance between Tanya and a talented artist who is almost caught up in some illegal art dealings to pay for the medicine his grandmother needs. Tanya is an appealing, thoughtful heroine whose political awareness and integrity will encourage readers to think about the importance of decisions and events in people’s lives.-Carol Schene, Taunton Public Schools, MA

[Page 139]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

School Library Journal Reviews 2009 March

Gr 5-8--In Germany, in 1955, scars of the Nazi regime and anti-Semitism are still evident. When a school assignment includes researching a "good German" who opposed Hitler's government, Peter Liebig finds himself in a dilemna. He searches his parents' letters written during the war and finds a picture of a woman whose face he recognizes from his lifelong nightmares. Everything he has known about his family and upbringing is contradicted by his discovery that he is a Jewish boy, rescued and adopted by a woman working with the Red Cross when his biological mother was sent to Dachau. A conflict of emotions develops as Peter is angry and resentful yet still loves the parents he has known. At the same time he is disturbed by a sense of loyalty and a need to find out the true fate of his birth parents. Whelan's well-developed story line and characterization present a short, psychological drama of a boy struggling to come to terms with his past so that his future identity, be that Jewish or Christian, can be formed. Supporting roles of Peter's peers, as well as that of a new friend, a Holocaust survivor who helps him with gentle advice and a caring introduction to a Jewish environment, bring this boy's story full circle.--Rita Soltan, Youth Services Consultant, West Bloomfield, MI

[Page 158]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

VOYA Reviews 2006 February
Fans of Whelan's Russian epics will be thrilled that she has written another story focused on the history of that country. This novel, however, does not require any knowledge of the other books, although reading it will probably encourage fans to seek out the earlier epics. As is the case with most of Whelan's stories, this text portrays a strong young woman faced with difficult decisions. Seventeen-year-old Tatiana, a member of the Russian ballet, must decide if she will defect to France when she is chosen to dance with the troupe in Paris during the spring of 1991. To do so means leaving the family she loves in a country troubled and torn by political strife. Tatiana is pulled in both directions about her choice. Leaving assures a better future, whereas staying requires being hopeful for one. Readers will easily relate to what it means to make difficult decisions, for Tatiana makes many that will be familiar to them. Although the one to flee her country is certainly the most pressing, she must also decide on everyday issues of right and wrong, how she feels about an old friend who is clearly changing, and what to do to help someone she knows is in danger. As with all of this author's books, readers learn that there are no easy choices in life, only the hope for good ones. Whelan fans will want this book yesterday, but its timeless themes will keep tomorrow's fans reading as well.-Elaine J. O'Quinn PLB $16.89. ISBN 0-06-075594-6. 4Q 2P M J Copyright 2006 Voya Reviews.