Saturday, September 18, 2021

ARC Review: The Genius Under the Table: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Eugene Yelchin (10/5/2021)

The Genius Under the Table: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain is a memoir for middle grade readers written by Eugene Yelchin, the Newbery Honor author of 2011's Breaking Stalin's Nose. This heavily illustrated first-person account relates the experiences of young Eugene, then called Yevgeny, as he uncovers his talent as an artist while living under communist rule in the USSR. 

This is a fascinating read. Yelchin easily brings the reader into the world of his childhood, where his neighbor is a spy for the KGB, ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov is a national treasure soon to escape to North America, and his mother worries he will never find the gift that will guarantee his safety when he reaches adulthood. Yelchin manages to drive home the oppression of Communism while also maintaining a levity that makes this book fun to read and very difficult to put down. (I picked it up to check out a few pages and an hour later came up for air, having finished the entire thing.) Young Yevgeny comes across as a kid just like the child reading the book, and because of this relatability I think young American readers will be better able to empathize with the parts of his life they have, thankfully, never experienced themselves. 

I learned very little about Communism in school. A book like this makes it possible to introduce the subject at an age appropriate level that doesn't overwhelm kids but also helps them to understand the seriousness of the dangers and problems experienced by families in Communist countries. Eugene Yelchin is an incredibly talented writer and artist, and this book is basically flawless. 

I received an ARC of this book from Candlewick in exchange for an honest review.

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