Rachel’s Hope

Rachel's Hope9781927583425_p0_v1_s260x420Rachel’s Hope (The Rachel Trilogy)

Shelly Sanders, Author

Second Story Press, Historical Fiction, September 1, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 12 and up

Themes: Russian Jews, Persecution, Separation, Immigration. Family, Love, Hope

Synopsis: Rachel Paskar flees the antisemitic violence and persecution against Jews in her Russian village and makes the long journey by train across Siberia with her family to a refugee camp in Shanghai. Rachel makes a name for herself as a journalist. After her mother dies in Shanghai, she and her surviving family members save enough money to sail to San Francisco in 1905. Rachel also leaves behind her boyfriend, Sergei, in St. Petersburg. He becomes involved in the revolution against the Tsarist Russians.

Rachel and her family find freedom from persecution in San Francisco, but are challenged with learning a new language and strange American customs, while trying to hang on to their family’s Russian traditions. Rachel works as a maid, meets a group of women’s voter activists, and makes friends with a female journalist who encourages her writing and introduces her to newspaper editors. She meets a student, Alexander, who she cares about, but Sergei remains in her thoughts. What has happened to him and will she ever see him again? Then the great San Francisco earthquake strikes and Rachel and her family lose everything.  Starting over is hard, yet this determined young woman never loses sight of her dream to attend the university.

Why I  like this book:  Rachel’s Hope marks the culmination of the The Rachel Trilogy. You can read my reviews of  Rachel’s Secret and Rachel’s Promise here. Shelly Sanders’ fictionalized trilogy is based on a true story about her courageous grandmother who faces persecution as a Russian Jew, escapes from Russia and journeys to America, where she becomes the first Jewish woman accepted into the University of California, Berkeley’s science program.  Sanders masterfully reconstructs life in early 20th century Russia, Shanghai and America, weaving the personal with the historical into a compelling story that creates a rich reading experience. She is fastidious in her research of different cultural customs and details of every day life (i.e. food, clothing, dwellings, and work conditions). Her heroine is a strong and courageous character.  Her plot is moving as she brilliantly writes two parallel stories — Rachel’s changing life in America and Sergei’s hard life in revolutionary Russia — and gives the reader a clear and realistic portrayal of a period in history that few people know. Yet, Rachel’s Hope brings a positive conclusion to the story of a Russian family immigrating to America where possibilities are limitless. I highly recommend this important series to teachers for use in the classroom. Resources: Visit Sanders’ website for teachers guides on the trilogy and more information.

Shelly Sanders has worked as a freelance writer for almost 20 years. The Rachel Trilogy was an “intense three-year journey” for her. She learned about her grandmother’s story when she was 16 years old, after her grandmother had died. It wasn’t until after Sanders had a family, that she felt a compulsion to get to know her grandmother.

Rachael’s Secret

Rachel'sSecret9781926920375_p0_v1_s260x420Rachel’s Secret

Shelly Sanders, Author

Second Story Press, Historical Fiction, 2012

Suitable for Ages: 13-18

Themes: Tensions between pre-revolutionary Russian Jews and Christians, Hatred,  Rumors, Riots

Synopsis:  Rachael is a 14-year-old Jew living in Kishinev, Russia, in 1903.  Unlike most girls her age, she has dreams of being a writer.  Her life is turned inside out when her Christian friend, Mikhail, is murdered after a day of ice skating on a river with friends.  Rachael is the only witness to the murder, but realizes the great danger she faces going to the police.  She knows her family will be at great risk.  She shares her secret with her sister and her Christian friend, Sergei.

In keeping her silence, tensions begin to mount between the Jewish and Christian communities.  The Jews of Kishinev are blamed for the murder of Mikhail.  The entire community turns on the Jews and the local newspaper spreads rumors and propaganda daily.  Even the police fail to protect and support the Jews.  A riot breaks out and the community is destroyed and blood is shed.  Sergei tells his police-chief father the truth, but Sergei is dismissed and his father does nothing.  Rachael and Sergei feel hope dwindling, but know they must stop the violence.

Why I like this book:  This is a debut novel for Shelly Sanders and she is a very skilled writer.  She has done a superb job of taking history and fiction and combining them in this unforgettable story.  The events in the story are true.  Sander’s story is inspired by her grandmother who lived in Kishinev in 1903 and survived the riots.  Many of her vividly developed characters in the story, including Mikhail, Sergei, and Sergei’s father, are based on real people.  The story Sanders weaves is compelling and gives her readers a very realistic view of life in Kishinev in 1903.  I did not know about this piece of history.  I highly recommend this book for middle and high school students.

Visit Shelly Sander’s at her website.  She has written a sequel, Rachel’s Promise, to be published September 15, 2013.  Rachel and her family escape Kishinev on the Trans-Siberian Railway across Russia and board a boat to Shanghai.  Follow her journey and new life in an unexpected country.