Holt, 2014 234 pgs
Arcady lives in a terrible orphanage for boys run by corrupt commander Butterball (Arcady's name). All of the unfortunate inmates are children of "enemies of the people" who have been executed for crimes (both real and trumped -up) against the government. The boys are starving and have no recreation, aside from soccer. Arcady is the best in the orphanage, besting boys much bigger than himself. When a group of inspectors come to the camp, Butterball shows Arcady's skills off, forcing him to play match after match. One of the inspectors, Ivan Ivanych, seems different than the rest. Imagine Arcady's surprise when Ivan Ivanych returns to the camp seeking to adopt Arcady. For the first time in his memories Arcady has enough food to eat and a room to call his own. Even though Arcady tries to hide the fact, Ivan discovers that Arcady has never been taught to read and begins to teach him, further building confidence. After Arcady expresses desire to play soccer on a team, Ivan Ivanych puts a team together, making himself the coach. Arcady assumes that Ivan is an important coach and only adopted him in order to have a strong player on his team. The truth of Ivan's inadequacies as a coach are revealed at the first practice, when Ivan clearly does not know what he is doing and the other parents object to having a child of the enemy of the people (Arcady) on the team. We know that Ivan's wife is dead, but now we learn the truth behind the cause of her death and Ivan's true motivation for adopting Arcady. Does Arcady achieve his soccer dreams? Do he and Ivan become a family? Read the book to find out.
Newbery honorist, Yelchin, offers another glimpse into Soviet life. His surprise hit Breaking Stalin's Nose was similar in concept to The Boy in Striped Pajamas, only a naive boy's point of view of the tyranny of Stalin, not the holocaust. He revisits Soviet Russia with a fictionalized story based on his father's real childhood experiences. The book begins with an actual photo of Yelchin's father when he was the captain of the Red Army Soccer Club. Right from the first glimpse of the photo, I was reeled in. As the reader we can see that Ivan is no soccer coach long before Arcady does and we live through his eyes the hideous abuse he endures and accepts as his lot in life. We can't help but root from Arcady from the first and cheer as he finally finds a home and gets his chance to make a team. This book is mature in content, but exists on different levels, depending on the maturity of the reader. It reads quickly and boasts a small trim size and wide margins. Pencil illustrations, drawn by the author, are plentiful and add to the atmosphere of the story. Arcady's Goal is a great choice for reluctant readers needing a book for a historical fiction book report. The soccer element will further make this book an easy sell. Arcady's Goal is perhaps not as cleverly written as Breaking Stalin's Nose, but it does have more kid-appeal. An author's note at the end further personalizes Yelchin's story and explains the horrific nature of the Stalin years and the lasting effects on its survivors. Part sports story, part historical fiction, part family tale, Arcady's Goal packs a wallop in its few quickly read pages.