Symphony for the City of the Dead

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Title: Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad

Author: M.T. Anderson

Summary: During World War II, the Russian city of Leningrad, formerly known as St. Petersburg, was bombed and held under siege by Nazi forces for almost three years, unable to obtain fresh food or other necessities for survival. Starving and desperate, residents of the cosmopolitan cultural capital of the nation endured unspeakable horrors. It was the stuff of nightmares, but it was also a source of inspiration, as famous composer Dmitri Shostakovich created a piece of music that would come to demonstrate to the war-torn world the incredible strength of his native city, the Seventh Symphony.

Born before the Russian Revolution, Shostakovich was a living witness to an incredible time in world history. This stunning and impeccably researched work of non-fiction describes the epic story of the war in the U.S.S.R. by telling the story of this one man, an artist who had been held up a both a hero and a pariah by those in charge over the course of his turbulent life. This book is challenging and deeply rewarding, much like author Anderson’s acclaimed fiction including Feed and The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing. Even if you think you know all there is to know about World War II, this book will surprise you.

Who will like this book?: Mature readers who are interested in history. Musicians and artists. People who are curious about everyday life under war conditions.

If you like this, try this: For more on Russian history, try The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming. The Road of Bones by Ann Fine. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. For mature readers, City of Thieves by David Benioff.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

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Rose Under Fire

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Title: Rose Under Fire

Author: Elizabeth Wein

Summary:  Wein set the bar incredibly high with her debut novel Code Name Verity, my top pick for 2012, but she doesn’t disappoint with this follow-up companion.  Wein revisits some of her characters from Verity, but this is truly Rose Justice’s story.  Rose, an American pilot, amateur poet and recent high school graduate, volunteers for the Airport Transport Auxiliary, a British civilian organization that ferried military aircraft and service personnel during World War II.

While flying back from Paris to England, Rose is captured by the Nazis and taken to Ravensbruck, a woman’s concentration camp in Northern Germany.  There Rose learns to live a life of extremes – extreme hunger and torture, extreme cold and fatigue, and the extreme courage and loyalty she witnesses in her fellow inmates.  And, it is with some of those courageous inmates that Rose creates a family. It’s a family held together by tragedy and hope for each other, composed of sisters who were subjects of brutal medical experimentation by Nazi doctors and a “mother” whose children and husband were murdered.   And, the sacrifices these family members make might just save some of them so that they can reveal the Nazis’ inhumane experimentation to the world.

*Rose Under Fire does contain some spoilers for Code Name Verity, so despite it being a companion book, I would definitely recommend starting with Code Name Verity.

Who will like this book?:  Historical fiction fans will appreciate Wein’s thorough research and ability to create characters true to the time period.  However, the subject matter, storyline, and characters are so compelling that anyone who enjoys drama or stories about courage in the face of inhumanity will find this book well worth their time.

If you like this, try this: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne, and Briar Rose by Jane Yolen,

Recommended by: Jen, Fairfield Woods Branch Teen Librarian