Monday, April 13, 2015

Book Review: "Playing a Part" by Daria Wilke

Grisha's life is in upheaval.  The Moscow puppet theater that has always been his home, and he loves the magic he finds there.  But at the same time, one of his favorite people in the theater - an actor named Sam - is leaving.  Sam is a gay man, and can no longer live where he is beaten in public for holding a man's hand.  Young Grisha is just starting to thinking about his own identity, and Sam's leaving throws him into turmoil.  Especially when this coincides with hurtful homophobic comments from his grandfather, bullying from former friends at school, and his only friend's approaching surgery.

The fact this book exists is a pretty amazing thing in itself.  It was first published in Russia at the same time that "gay propaganda" was outlawed.  So I applaud the author and her publisher in Russia for this.  This is also the first young adult novel from Russia to be translated into English, which is another very good thing.  For these reasons, I really wanted to love this book and excitedly recommend it to all.....  but I can't do that.

I'm not sure, but I think something vital was lost in translation.  There are some really awkward passages as well as some very confusing scenes and lack of continuity within a scene.  Almost all of the dialogue felt weird to me.  Even though this is told from Grisha's point of view, I still felt strangely disconnected from him.  Even though I know a little bit about the cultural climate in Russia when this was published, nothing in the book even makes me feel like this is set in current times, which also felt strange to me.  I will say that some of the descriptive passages were quite lovely, which is what makes me think that the problem is in the translation.  I also would have appreciated an author's note or even an editor's note or something to indicate the history of this book or the current situation for gays in Russia for the American teen reader for whom this translation was published.  Unfortunately, this novel was ultimately a disappointment for me.

*****
Playing a Part
by Daria Wilke
Arthur A. Levine, 2015
161 pages
Source:  Finished copy provided by publisher for honest review
*****

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