Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Review: MANNEQUIN GIRL, by Ellen Litman
Kat Knopman starts first grade in September, 1980, in Soviet Russia. Her parents Misha and Anechka are bohemians- beautiful, artistic, sophisticated. Kat is diagnosed with a serious case of scoliosis and has to attend a special school where she has trouble fitting in despite having so much in common with her similarly-situated peers. Her family is Jewish, and this fact presents special challenges within the Soviet system. She struggles with her condition, with the difficulties of boarding-school life and most of all with the gnawing, growing realization that she can never equal her parents and that they might not even deserve the pedestal on which she has placed them.
I am a big fan of Ellen Litman's from her 2008 book of interconnected short stories The Last Chicken in America. This book told the story of another Russian Jew, Masha, only it told her life in America, post-emigration. I loved this book for its psychological insight and lovely prose, and Litman's novel shows the same qualities that made me admire her stories so. In Mannequin Girl, we follow Kat from first grade through the beginning of high school- the changes in her spirit and her body, and the changes in her family's life as well as some of her friends. A boy named Sergei Mironov starts out as her nemesis but becomes something like a friend, her grandfather's young wife gets frozen out, and her parents go from a happy, charmed couple to something more bitter and less sure. Kat burns through an infatuation with a handsome older boy to learn some hard lessons about life.
Mannequin Girl is a slow-moving book that is nonetheless very involving and emotionally touching. Kat is flawed and real and believable, likeable and changeable too. I got involved with her problems, cheered her little victories and suffered her defeats with her. She's an unforgettable character; the book would be a great choice for book clubs as well as suitable for YA audiences. I'm glad this one was classified as adult because being the snob I am I doubt I would have picked it up if it were in the YA section. And then I would have missed out.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.