Wilke, Daria. Playing a Part. Arthur A. Levine Books. 2015. $18.99. 176p. HC. 978-0545726078.
Translated from Russian, this YA novel is the coming-of-age story of Grisha, a boy growing up in a puppet theater in Moscow and struggling with his identity. He is bullied at school and doesn’t live up to his grandfather’s expectations of manhood. The theater is Grisha’s sanctuary. However, problems are starting to seep into his life within the theater as well. Sam, an actor who Grisha idolizes, announced he is moving to escape the homophobia he faces in Russia. The puppet master, Lyolik, gets booted from his job and replaced by someone younger. To make matters worse, Sashok, Grisha’s best friend who he views as a sister, is about to have heart surgery. As Grisha faces these issues, he discovers his confidence in the process.
This book may be under 200 pages, but it is not a fast-paced read. It is a quiet book and not centered around one main conflict. It feels more like a slice of life story that showcases the moments that make a person. This is accomplished by placing flashbacks throughout the in-the-present story. The story is atmospheric with luscious descriptions of the theater and the puppets, making this a good choice for readers with strong visual imaginations.
YA novels in translation are rare, and this one is especially noteworthy because of the circumstances in which it was originally published. It was first published in Russia when many anti-gay rights laws were being enforced, including outlawing the distribution of “homosexual propaganda” to minors. This book is recommended for teen collections, especially those seeking out more diverse titles. Give this to the teen who appreciates quiet, atmospheric, coming-of-age stories with underdog heroes.
Jenna Goodall, Youth Services Librarian
Deerfield (IL) Public Library