Review: Vaclav & Lena by Haley Tanner

Sunday, April 22, 2012
Author: Haley Tanner
Genre: young-adult, contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 292 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: May 2011
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 5/5

Set in New York's Russian émigré community, Vaclav & Lena is a timeless love story from a stunningly gifted young novelist.

Vaclav and Lena, both the children of Russian émigrés, are at the same time from radically different worlds. While Vaclav's burgeoning love of performing magic is indulged by hard-working parents pursuing the American dream, troubled orphan Lena is caught in a domestic situation no child should suffer through. Taken in as one of her own by Vaclav's big-hearted mother, Lena might finally be able to blossom; in the naive young magician's eyes, she is destined to be his "faithful assistant"...but after a horrific discovery, the two are ripped apart without even a goodbye. Years later, they meet again. But will their past once more conspire to keep them apart?

This was a magical experience for me - one that was completely charming but not without depth or darker themes. It's a light and breezy read with an innocent tone for the most part - a (sadly) short-ish book that can easily be completed in a day but be warned; this novel about young love made my bitter old heart grow three sizes when I finished it. Vaclav & Lena is, at the heart of everything, a novel really all about love. Love between friends, lovers, parents - Haley Tanner made sure all types are shown; from the various ups and downs of lives of the two main characters, and through the cast of big-hearted and small-vocabularied Rasia, to the whimsical and adorable young-Vaclav, to the more remote but alluring Lena.

I mainly love this novel based on the strength of the complicated, endearing, realistic and lovable main characters, the eponymous Lena and Vaclav. Yes, there are several issues first brought to light by minds brighter than mine (Vaclav is not a Russian name, the iffy speech patterns, Rasia/her husband Oleg could be viewed as a sad stereotype of Russian emigres) but my overwhelming appreciation and love for these two made the rest worth it. I am not blind to the faults that will surely turn others off completely but for me this was always about the two kids and the rest was just atmosphere or set-pieces. Rasia is the most important secondary character but outside of one crucial act that changes everything, the reader's attention remains wholly on the would-be magician and his beautiful assistant.

Haley Tanner is a good storyteller, especially for a debut novel - I was hooked on this tale from the first chapter. The early sweetness of the beginning chapters really captured the feeling, the hope essential to both Vaclav and Rasia's and their hopes for life in America. The author's gift for descriptive, detailed prose sets all the scenes with atmosphere and feeling. For me, this was a beautiful, emotional and lovely read - a book with a lot of heart and promise. I was vastly impressed with the author and only the quibbles mentioned earlier (why must all ex-pat Russians drop pronouns and articles?) kept this from being perfect. Even so, 5 stars because of how beautiful Tanner's writing often was, and for my immense love for Lena and Vaclac, especially Vaclav. Wonderful.

Favorite quotes (skip for slight SPOILERS!):

Lena is like an egg hitting the floor, she comes apart everywhere.

Of course they were with each other the whole time. Even when they weren't looking, they never had to check. She was always there; he was always there. Outside her bedroom, somewhere in the darkness, like the moon.

Vaclav has said goodnight to Lena every night since the night she went away. Out loud. In a whisper. [...] 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.

"What have you been up to?" She smiles; it is so strange to ask him what he has been up to. Like meeting the president and saying, "Hey, how are you doing?"
"Same, thing," he says, meaning still magic, still trying to take care of you with my mind, still trying to control events using supernatural powers.

Lena's real mom, Emily, knew that this was not the truth, but she also knew that Vaclav was not lying.
Vaclav knew that he was telling the truth.
Lena knew that it was a lie, but she loved it and believed it, like a fairy tale, like a song, like a bedtime story, like a magic trick.
She loved Vaclav until it became the truth and so it was.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Copyright © 2015 Ageless Pages Reviews. All Rights Reserved.

Amelia Theme by The Lovely Design CO and These Paper Hearts.