In 1982 Laura goes to Leningrad for a semester abroad at the height of Cold War paranoia (7 years before the fall of the Berlin Wall). There she meets a young Russian artist named Alexei and with him as her guide Laura immerses herself in the real Russia.
She must keep their relationship secret though; associating with Americans is dangerous for Alexei, and if caught, Laura could be sent home. She’s been warned that Soviets often latch onto Americans in hopes of marrying them, but she’s certain Alexei’s different…
In 2011 I read The Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters and was introduced to Natalie Standiford’s simple yet elegant writing style, so I was very happy when I heard about the upcoming publication of The Boy on the Bridge (releasing July 30th 2013).
I liked that this novel was written entirely from Laura’s point of view (third person narration) – giving me 248 pages to be sucked into her world. Most YA romance books alternate between a male and female p.o.v. these days but when you’re setting your book in Cold War Russia you’d ruin the suspense if you did that; part of what glued my attention to these pages was my curiosity regarding Alexei and his intentions toward Laura.
Laura herself was an interesting character… you’d have to be pretty special to want to study Russian in 1982.
“She decided… to study Russian, the language of violence, terror and absurdity. She knew she would never be bored.”
There were plenty of colorful secondary characters like Lydia who was “hanging on by her fingernails” to life in Russia, a tattered mess, Donovan who “didn’t bother with classes… He was dealing on the black market”, and Olga the Russian muse who couldn’t decide what she wanted. It was the little things that peppered this novel with magic though: the gypsies on the bridge with their cloth swaddled bundles; the Russian names and folk tales; the personal essays Laura writes while sitting on the crowded metro; the scattered lines of Russian poetry.
“… everything is mother-of-pearl and jasper,
But the light’s source is a secret.”
– Anna Akhmatova’s ‘Summer Garden’ (p.205)
This novel transported me to another time and place, one of censorship and hardship, but also of hope and wonder. Russia in the 1980s – it’s buildings, people and ideas – is an interesting setting for a YA novel, naturally lending a sense of intrigue and mystery to the story. (I would classify this as YA, although there are glossed over scenes of a sensitive nature and mention of drugs.)
“Daylight had fled and blue night pressed against the bedroom window. Outside, a dog howled and a tram clanked by on the way to its last stop.”
This is not another YA ‘romance’ book – you would be making a mistake if you let the light-hearted cover fool you into thinking this – it is primarily a coming of age tale which uses first love as its catalyst. Once again Natalie Standiford has delivered something unique, carefully plotted and well written to bookshop shelves.
My Rating: ☼☼☼☼