Author: Haley Tanner
Title: Vaclav & Lena
Vaclav, a Russian immigrant boy, dreams of becoming a great magician and performing at Coney Island, just like his hero Harry Houdini. His assistant, Lena, is one month younger than Vaclav and also Russian. She is essential to Vaclav's magic act. For him, "There is no show without Lena. Lena is necessary for all the illusions ... Lena is irreplaceable." Together they navigate public school, the English language, and life in America. For Vaclav, Lena "makes everything better just by being there." For Lena, Vaclav "is a place to go instead of nowhere." And then, one day, Lena is taken away. And for seven years they are apart.
The power of saying good night each night to Lena is great. On the first night that Lena was gone, Vaclav said good night to her, put the good night out into the scary, lonely darkness, and meant each word in a very specific way. Good night. Not a dangerous night. Not a cold or lonely or nightmare-filled night. He filled the words with all his love and care and worry for Lena and launched them out to her, and like homing pigeons, he trusted them to find her, and he felt, that night, that his words would keep Lena safe, that if he thought about her and cared about her and showed this to the universe, then bad things would not happen to her...They are seventeen when they are reunited, but they both question whether they even know each other any more. This is such a great book! Vaclav and Lena share a connection that is both rare and poignant. I was drawn to them immediately. I especially loved Vaclav's penchant for lists and magic tricks and his unquestioning loyalty to Lena. So much so that I didn't want this story to end. Haley Tanner is an incredibly talented storyteller; I'm very glad her novel was sitting on the T shelf when I went to the library last week. It's books like this that make reading the alphabet rewarding and fun.