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Book Review: Broken Glass Park by Alina Bronsky

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Broken Glass Park is a debut novel by written Alina Bronsky and translated from German by Tim Mohr. It is the story of a 17-year-old Sacha Naiman, a Russian immigrant who moved to Germany with her mother, step-father Vadim, her younger brother Anton and younger sister Alissa. Sascha is extremely smart and a gifted student, but she is very angry. Seeing your mother murdered by your stepfather will do that to a person.

As the book opens, Sascha declares that she will kill Vadim; that he is in prison just gives Sascha more time to plan. Vadim's cousin Maria came from Russia to care for the little ones; at least social services can be kept at bay. The other Russian immigrants in their housing project, called the Emerald, wish Sascha and her family would leave and take their bad luck with them. Sascha does not want to let go of the last place her mother lived, but neither does she take part in the teen drinking and drugging parties in nearby "Broken Glass Park," so called due to its neglected state. Although protective of her brother and sister, Sascha is not in a place where she can easily show kindness to others or accept it when it is offered to her, and she holds herself aloof. Her actions as the story goes on show just how tightly strung she's become.

I approached Broken Glass Park with trepidation. The story sounded too dark, too depressing. I'm happy to say I found it anything but. Crisp writing, Sascha's smart and believable voice, and a fabulous translation all make the book vibrant. Sascha is crackling with righteous rage and willing to take on the world. I became fond of her and her rag-tag family, particularly Alissa, who was only two when the tragedy occurred and is boisterous and intelligent. Anton, 7 at the time of the killing, is scared of everything and struggling mightily. Maria is not very bright and has learned next-to-no German, but she is a wonderful cook and a warm presence.

This book was a very fast read; I found it hard to put down and the pages just flew by. Although it is a coming-of-age story, I thought the plot fresh and did not guess its direction. The only disappointment to me was the ending, not because it was an unsuitable way to finish this story, just that there is so much more to find out about Sascha and how her life turns out. If Broken Glass Park were a television series (I could easily see it on HBO), the ending would have been fine for the first season, when you know the characters will be back in a year to bring you up to date on what happens next. Complete in itself, or begging for a sequel — either way, I highly recommend Broken Glass Park.

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About Nancy Fontaine

Nancy Fontaine is a librarian and freelance writer living in New Hampshire with her husband, two cats, and every four years during presidential primary season, the national press.