Finding Zasha is a prequel to the popular Saving Zasha. I never read Saving Zasha, so I read Finding Zasha “cold” with no pre-existing ideas. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m a sucker for good boy + dog stories, and in this case, it’s boy + 2 dogs + Russia during WWII.
When the story opens, 12-year-old Ivan is living with his mother in an apartment in Leningrad as the famous siege of Leningrad begins. Ivan and his older neighbor (an “aunt”) flee the city on a dangerous journey which involved crossing a iced-over river, catching a ride with a stranger, and showing up unannounced at a distant relative’s house. Once they arrive in their new rural town, Ivan quickly makes friends with the local resistance fighters and joins them–none too soon, it turns out, because the Germans are moving in quickly. Ivan ends up getting chosen by the brutal commander of this particular German force–Axel–to play music for him and to train Axel’s two adorable German Shepherd puppies.
I won’t give away the rest of the book. Suffice it to say that Ivan forms a tremendous bond with his two canine charges, hatches a daring escape plan for them and him both (and other resistance fighters), endures another harrowing journey across unforgiving winter Russia, and… you’ll just have to read it! Those who enjoyed the first Zasha book will enjoy this one. This one ends on a cliff hanger–which makes sense if you’ve read the first book, but which I had to do a little research about since I haven’t read the first book.
Zasha is a bit too long for my tastes and will challenge some early middle school students. Still it’s a good fit for the middle grades age group.
Truth and Story: This is a very engaging story, but the Truth aspects were a little off to me. From what I understand of Russia, the time period, and any group of people in wartime, I though it noteworthy that there was scant mention of religion of any sort. It doesn’t “ruin” the story, but I noticed. Still, it provides a good picture of a boy hero, a brave group standing together at great risk, and what wartime can do to people.
Finding Zasha should be on shelves in bookstores now and will no doubt follow soon to library shelves.