02 Sep / A Year Without Mom by Dasha Tolstikova
One night, she overhears her grandmother assuring her mother: “She will be fine. We will take good care of her. You have to take this opportunity.” Suddenly, her mother is leaving for a graduate program in advertising in America, and Dasha must say a most reluctant goodbye.
Not quite a child, not yet a young adult, Dasha teeters between need and defiance. She accompanies her grandmother to a writers’ retreat outside the city. She goes back to school. She hangs out with her two best friends, she goes to art class. She reads Gone with the Wind to learn more about America. She goes to Germany and discovers Nutella. She has girlfriend problems. She has boy problems. She isn’t cool enough. She fails an exam. She cries in her grandmother’s lap. Twice (!), she thinks she might be in love …
And then her mother is back: “seeing her is like finally taking a breath after holding it in for a year.” But she returns with unexpected news, and no amount of begging and pleading will change the year to come.
Adolescence is challenging enough, but Dasha must confront additional layers of multi-generational gaps: she misses her mother, she wishes she could live with her aunt, she has a tenuous relationship with her estranged father, she yells terrible words at her disciplining grandfather. Beyond her personal dramas is a country in political turmoil: she watches as the adults worry, but every time Dasha hears the word ‘coup’ – as in coup d’état when President Gorbachev is ousted – she can only think of “small birds nesting.” In some things, she is still so very young …
That creator Dasha Tolstikova is now a Brooklyn-based illustrator provides clues as to what happens next. But don’t rush to jump too far ahead, because her debut memoir needs to be attentively appreciated and engagingly savored. Just as her text is candid and direct, so, too, her black-and-white-with-splashes-of-color line drawings exude simple charm and whimsy. The result is an open invitation to share in a year of living not-quite-independently as this thoughtful tween navigates towards an inevitable teenagerhood about to be.
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult