I listened to the audio version of Vaclav & Lena, and I was immediately drawn in by the male reader. He does an excellent job bringing Vaclav to life. This story of two Russian immigrants, ages 10 and 9 and 11 months, could also be titled "What Was Wrong With Lena." Vaclav and Lena are best friends - in fact, they are each other's only friend. Vaclav plans to be a magician and Lena will be his "lovely assistant." Rasia, Vaclav's mother, has taken an interest in Lena since her aunt and caregiver leaves Lena home alone all the time in an apartment filled with dirty clothes and dishes, cigarette butts, and no food. Each night, Rasia feeds Lena dinner, walks her home (pretending that her aunt has called to ask Rasia to walk Lena home) and tucks her into bed with a bedtime story. But one day Lena doesn't come to school when she is sick. When Rasia goes over to check on her that evening, she doesn't come home until 5 a.m. the next day and Lena is gone - turned over to Child Protective Services because of what Rasia saw.
Fast-forward to Lena's 17th birthday, and the two meet up again. Lena is obsessed with finding her parents so she knows where she comes from, but as her relationship with Vaclav progresses, bad memories surface. Vaclav's solution is both sweet and perhaps a bit naive.
I really enjoyed this audio book. Although I thought the first section and the last section were the most compelling, I was intrigued enough to find out more about Lena and Vaclav to keep reading through the slower middle section, and it may have been a change of narrators that made it less interesting for me in the middle.
Vaclav & Lena by Haley Tanner (The Dial Press, 2011)
My rating: 4 stars