Vaclav and Lena seem destined for each other. They meet as children in an ESL class in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Vaclav is precocious and verbal. Lena, struggling with English, takes comfort in the safety of his adoration, his noisy, loving home, and the care of Rasia, his big-hearted mother. Vaclav imagines their story unfolding like a fairy tale, or the perfect illusion from his treasured Magician’s Almanac, but among the many truths to be discovered in Haley Tanner’s wondrous debut is that happily ever after is never a foregone conclusion.
One day, Lena does not show up for school. She has disappeared from Vaclav and his family’s lives as if by a cruel magic trick. For the next seven years, Vaclav says goodnight to Lena without fail, wondering if she is doing the same somewhere. On the eve of Lena’s seventeenth birthday he finds out.
Haley Tanner has the originality and verve of a born storyteller, and the boldness to imagine a world in which love can overcome the most difficult circumstances. In Vaclav & Lena she has created two unforgettable young protagonists who evoke the joy, the confusion, and the passion of having a profound, everlasting connection with someone else.
Vaclav & Lena by Haley Tanner is the runaway favorite book of 2011 for me.
It’s sweet without being saccharine, serious, playful, and fun. Vaclav and Leah are both Russian immigrants, and Vaclav is going to grow up to be a famous magician and Leah will be his beautiful assistant. Tanner seems to have a knack for children’s voices, but she’s able to transition when the kids are teenagers. Vaclav’s mom is imperfect but only has good intentions, and it’s hard not to understand why she does what she does.
I loved this book, and I wish that everyone would read it.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars