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Book Review: Back in the USSR

Back in the USSRBack in the USSR by Patrick D. Joyce
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The back-cover synopsis had me lunging for this book, which I easily read in just a couple of evenings. It’s quite the page-turner! Now, I’m not going to write a book report describing the plot for you. All you need to know about the premise is in the synopsis. If it’s tickled your curiosity, just take a leap of faith and hang on – it’s gonna be a bumpy, wild ride.

One of my favorite characteristics of our protagonist, Harrison, is his delightfully out-of-control imagination, which brings the sights and people of Moscow to life in surreal ways. Imagine a crowded street, when suddenly all the pedestrians turn into roly-poly Matryoshkas, Russian nesting dolls. Or hearing “Kopek for your thoughts, tovarish?” from the guy who’s sat down next to you on a park bench, and when you look at him, it’s a bronze statue of Lenin taking a break from its pedestal.

Harrison’s bestie is Prudence. While he comes to Moscow during American school breaks to visit his parents, Pru’s living in the city full-time and attending a Russian school. They nicely fill in the blanks for each other – she’s better at reading Russian, he’s got access to Western things like Walkmans and music cassettes. However, they both share an obsession with the Beatles and seem to know everything about their music and careers.

The book’s author grew up as a child of diplomats, and it shows in his beautifully crafted descriptions of Moscow’s buildings and people, He brings the city to life for us readers. We see everything through Harrison’s eyes, a Moscow that is both a beautiful, historic marvel, and also a waking nightmare. A visit to the Bolshoi is especially memorable, as is an underground nightclub.

A clever trick Harrison uses to speak freely on the phone with a friend back in the States is both impressive AND a tribute to one of the weirder aspects of Beatlemania.

If you love spy thrillers, slick heist capers, National Treasure-ish quests, you’ll enjoy this. If you want to know more about Russia, Moscow, and even the Beatles, you’re going to learn a lot! For example, I never knew that “Once, people made record albums from X-ray films. But those music-on-bones records are difficult to make.”

This is a YA novel, but don’t limit yourself if you’re older. YA readers will be amazed at the music culture of the Beatles era, but us older folks will find ourselves smiling knowingly from time to time. highly recommend this unique adventure.

My thanks to author Patrick D. Joyce and NetGalley for allowing me to read a digital advance review copy of this book. This review is my honest and unbiased opinion.

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Lori Alden Holuta lives between the cornfields of Mid-Michigan, where she grows vegetables and herbs when she’s not writing, editing, or playing games with a cat named Chives.

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