Earlier this year I read a young adult novel called The Boy on the Bridge by Natalie Standiford. Then more recently I read Tsarina by J. Nelle Patrick and Sekret by Lindsay Smith, and I started thinking … hang on … is Russian historical fiction a “thing” now?
By “thing,” in this case, I mean a “microtrend,” which is a word that’s becoming increasingly popular. By which I mean that I’ve been seeing it more often on blogs and social media lately. A microtrend has the potential to become a full-blown trend. People who were keeping up with young adult literature over the last decade had thoughts like, “Oh, look! Another dystopian fiction book!” and “Hang on … didn’t I just read a book about zombies a little while ago?” shortly before those genres became trends that exploded all over our bookshelves.
Think of a microtrend as a snowball that’s starting to roll down a mountain, getting bigger as it goes along. It might stop rolling on its own, or it might hit a tree. But then again, it might get bigger and bigger, picking up speed and rolling over the occasional ski instructor on its way to the bottom of the mountain. Ah, but then if THAT happens, you can tell your friends (and anyone else you’d like to impress) that you’ve been following that trend SINCE THE VERY BEGINNING.
Right now I’m part of a book committee that’s working on a list of the best YA books of 2014 for NYPL’s website (stay tuned, because it’s going to be soooo cool when it’s done!) I’m happy to be part of a group that’s going to produce a list that will be both useful and fun, and I’m also happy that this project is pushing me to read more books than ever before. When our committee gets together to discuss the books we’re reading, we start to discover things that could be microtrends, or could be coincidences. Another book about mermaids? Another book in which a character has PTSD? Another book with a ballerina on the cover?
But let’s stick with Russian historical fiction for now. I’ve always been drawn to books about Russia, because part of my family was Russian and part of my family was from other countries that were behind or near the Iron Curtain of the Soviet Union. The family rumor was that we were descended from Ivan the Terrible through one of his mistresses ... so for your own safety, you should probably keep that in mind before irritating me. In the words of David Banner, “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”
So, now that you understand my fascination with all things Russian (and why it’s best to always stay on my good side), let’s talk about those books, shall we?
The Boy on the Bridge by Natalie Standiford
As I might have mentioned a time or two, I’m not a big fan of romance novels. But when my YA book club chose romance as the topic for the month, I had no way to escape my least favorite genre. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I did enjoy this book, not as much for the romance or the doofy cover (We don’t need to wear coats when it’s snowing out! Our LOVE will keep us warm!) but for the setting. The main character is an American exchange student who is living in Russia in 1982, and for a while she feels like an outsider as the local residents are either suspicious or hostile around her. But then she meets a boy who introduces her to the “real” Russia, and she learns more about the food, the history, and the culture of this secretive place.
Tsarina by J. Nelle Patrick
This book takes the Russian Revolution and gives it a fantasy twist by incorporating a Faberge egg with magical powers. The egg was imbued with magic by Rasputin (of course), and it has the power to protect the Tsar’s family and loved ones. That protection extends to Alexei’s girlfriend Natalya, and we follow her through the story as the royal family is kidnapped and the violence escalates even further. What I enjoyed the most about this book was how it wove magic into the historical events of the Russian Revolution in … dare I say a plausible way?
Sekret by Lindsay Smith
History meets the paranormal in the story of a Russian girl who is forced to join a team of psychics run by the KGB in the 1960’s. Yulia’s father used to tell her, “An empty mind is a safe mind,” but she didn’t understand the significance of this until her psychic powers started to develop. After the KGB kidnaps her and threatens to harm her mother and brother if she doesn’t cooperate, she finds herself following orders to spy on the Americans as well as other Russians. I enjoyed this book both because I found the details of Yulia’s psychic experiences captivating and because I enjoyed the historical details and famous people who made appearances in this book.
So, what do you think? Can we call three young adult historical fiction books set in Russia a microtrend, or is it more of a coincidence? Have you read other YA novels that fall under the “Russian historical fiction” umbrella? And what other microtrends have YOU spotted lately?