Vaclav & Lena: A Novel tells a sweet and sad story of two friends who become separated through events totally not under their control and who meet up again by chance and desire. It is also a story about believing in magic and in the ability to connect with others on a deeper level. The magic is not fantasy magic, but magic tricks and the ability to make people see you in different lights, the ability to shape one's self into something different. Vaclav & Lena also includes many lists that mostly delight, but sometimes sadden me.
I like this book.
Vaclav is the son of Russian immigrants; no one knows about Lena's parentage until the end, but she only speaks Russian until she is about seven or so. They become friends because Rasia, Vaclav's mother, sees what an awful situation Lena lives in and wants to help, so she sets up a playdate for Lena and her son. The story unfolds from there.
This book is dark, but it is also light. It feels honest. I would recommend it. It would probably be upsetting (in parts) for people with children--it was certainly upsetting to me--but the overall tone of the book points to hopefulness. It's not labeled as a YA novel, but I can see older teenagers reading this.
Also, this is the first story or book I have read about Russian people or having a Russian theme that wasn't all misery, hunger, desperation, and despair all the way through. Maybe it's because the focus isn't on Russians living in Russia under any of the Russian governments of the 20th century; the book is set in the contemporary United States and it focuses on two children--not adults grappling with crippling social forces--two children finding themselves and each other.