Elizabeth Varadan | The Children’s Book Review | December 23, 2014
By Annemarie O’Brien
Age Range: 10 and up
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Yearling; Reprint edition (July 22, 2014)
What to Expect: Glimpses of Imperial Russia, borzoi dogs bred for hunting and tracking wolves, encounters with wolves, Russian peasant traditions and superstitions.
Lara expects to one day fill her father’s position of kennel steward on Count Vorontsov’s estate. Normally the position is inherited by sons, but Lara is a natural. She loves training and birthing the borzoi dogs bred to hunt the wolves who kill livestock. She also has visions, something that frightens her father. He has warned her visions are evil: She must stop having them. She mustn’t speak of them.
When her baby brother, Bohdan, is born, Lara’s father reverts to tradition. Bohdan will be the future kennel steward. Worse, Lara is of marriageable age, and the midwife who helped deliver Bohdan, wants to marry Lara to her nephew. No more kennels. No more Zar, her faithful borzoi companion. No more Alexander, the count’s son and her best friend. But Lara’s secret visions persist, and when they lead to a saved life, her father shares a secret of his own.
Lara’s Gift is a step back in time to Imperial Russia, before the revolution of 1917. O’Brien captures the realities of the count’s estate, the clothing and lavish interiors, the grand kennels and stables, the lush celebrations, the intricate relationship between nobles and servants—and the longings of a peasant girl trapped by traditions and superstitions. One of the sweet touches in this book is the way Lara has recites to herself fragments of Pushkin’s poetry she has heard. O’Brien’s writing is both lyrical and painterly, making scenes memorable long after the story ends.
“Outside, under a glowing full moon, the north wind whistled and beat against the stable windows, as swirls of snow tossed in the air like long fluttering ribbons—flying higher and higher until they faded into the inky darkness of the night sky.”
The book is well-researched, and O’Brien provides a bibliography and some author’s notes about Russian culture of the time, as well as a glossary of Russian terms used in the text. It will appeal to readers who love dogs, wolves, and who are interested in Russian history.
Add this book to your collection: Lara’s Gift
About the Author
Annemarie O’Brien has an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She teaches creative writing courses at UC Berkeley Extension, Stanford Continuing Studies, Pixar, and DreamWorks, as well as edits children’s books for Room to Read which advocates literacy in developing countries. Lara’s Gift is her debut middle grade novel inspired from a former life when she lived and worked in the former Soviet Union during the Gorbachev era and was gifted Dasha, her first borzoi puppy.
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Lara’s Gift, by Annemarie O’Brien, was reviewed by Elizabeth Varadan. Discover more books about Russia and set in Russia by following along with our articles and reviews tagged with Books on Russia.