Sasha Zaichik is just like any other boy in Stalin's Russia; he lives in a communal apartment with 33 other people and shares a room with his dad--a large room, because his father is a hero in Stalin's regime--and he wants nothing more than to be a Young Pioneer. You have to be a Young Pioneer to become a good Communist, and Sasha is nothing if not a dedicated, devoted Communist. Like everyone else, he idolizes Stalin, adores him and relies on him. And then Sasha's father is arrested, informed on by one of the people in the shared apartment, and the next day at school, Sasha must face the truth of Stalin's Russia--and maybe the truth about his father.
I was actually really impressed with this book. I didn't find it at all didactic, impressive, given that the author's note is very clear that this was a book written with teaching in mind. Sasha's naivete is believable, not unrealistic given his age and the circumstances in which he lives, and, of course, Stalin's impressive propaganda machine. The illustrations, while sometimes awkwardly placed (I just don't like it when two-page spread illustrations come smack in the middle of a sentence) had an interestingly skewed property that suited the story perfectly. It's at once horrifying, humorous, and touching. And I wasn't expecting to like it much, so, hey. Good on you, Mr. Yelchin.