St Martin's Press
August 09, 2016
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The Fault In Our Stars meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Seventeen-year-old Ivan Isaenko is a life-long resident of the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children in Belarus. For the most part, every day is exactly the same for Ivan, which is why he turns everything into a game, manipulating people and events around him for his own amusement.
Until Polina arrives.
She steals his books. She challenges his routine. The nurses like her.
She is exquisite. Soon, he cannot help being drawn to her and the two forge a romance that is tenuous and beautiful and everything they never dared dream of. Before, he survived by being utterly detached from things and people. Now, Ivan wants something more: Ivan wants Polina to live.
"Intellectually, I understand why you should be so odd. I would be strange if I were trapped in this hellhole for a year, let alone however long you've been here. But you are levels of strange I've never met, and I've met strange. Mostly prostitutes and derelicts in Moscow. (pg 169)
Ivan Isaenko is strange. But his whole life is a bit strange, as well. Born following the Chernobyl nuclear reactor explosion in 1986, its effects impacted Ivan's prenatal development. As it did to many others.
Ivan's life has been a series of days very nearly exactly like the one before. He has a schedule, he knows what to expect.
She is something different, someone new - which very rarely happens to Ivan. Their relationship is not typical - the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children is not made for romance, Ivan's life doesn't seem made for happy endings, Polina doesn't fit any mold Ivan knows of. Still, something develops.
Ivan's character is different than I imagine anyone's read before. The location and circumstances of his birth, the radiation's effects are just the beginning. They set things up for a character who's at once so unlike you've read before but still very easy to relate to and connect with. Even if you can't truly understand what Ivan's life must be like, he does a great job of telling us, of letting us in, that it seems as if we do.
Despite all that Ivan's already been dealt you don't pity him. You may feel sorry for him, but you don't pity him - he has too much personality,t oo much sarcasm and self awareness for that. (Maybe he just gives readers the same idea of karma that he used to have? [It's pg 38 when you read the book.])
Sometimes, it's hard to believe Ivan isn't somehow odder than hie is, given what his life has bene.
Polina is her own sort of weird, though, too. Through what she shares, you van understand some of why. Her life has been closer to 'normal' but the events that bring her to the hospital, the things she's experienced allow her that connection with Ivan.
This is a world I never quite imagined existing, with a cast of characters I couldn't have put together and a central character, Ivan, not like anyone I've read before. Somehow all of these different or weird or just off things add up to a story readers can really connect with and won't soon forget.
digital copy received for review from publisher, via NetGalley