Miko Johnston’s poignant, yet triumphant, coming of age story about a young Jewish girl in 1899 Russia is sure to touch many hearts. The author’s sensitive narrative of the terrible loss and injustice this little girl faces will elicit feelings of tenderness and empathy from readers, while the depictions of her courage and enduring hope will cause them to weep and cheer.
Set in a small Jewish settlement, the eight year old Luska lives happily with her Papa and Mama, unconcerned with the poverty that haunts them and only vaguely aware of the threat of Cossack raids. Her parents long to provide a normal childhood for her and for the soon-coming baby, but their daily struggles to simply live put more and more responsibility on her shoulders.
Luska, eager to show how much she is able to do begs for more chores. Reluctantly her ailing mother sends her one day to the river to do the laundry. Proudly doing the chore and enjoying a fantasy of her own while the clothes dry, Luska providentially escapes a Cossack raid. All that is left of her village when she returns are ashes and smoke. A charred and dying merchant whispers his last word to Luska. “Go!”
With only her bundle of laundry and one saved heirloom from the ashes of her house, the orphaned girl begins a walk towards her future. Only by “hearing” the comforting words of her Papa and Mama is she able to go on.
Helpful and harmful people enter and leave her life. A flower seller inadvertently gives her a new name, Lala. A Rabbi and his family seem to give her hope. A young boy torments her. Strangers offer her a place, but can she trust them? Can her broken heart heal or even survive?
The final page of A Petal in the Wind comes far too quickly because we’ve grown to truly care about this little orphaned girl. What lies in her future? Can she ever love again? What will come of that talent we briefly glimpsed? Will she be able to keep that most important secret?
Thankfully this book is only the beginning of a breathtaking series that will take Lala and her descendants far into the future and to America. We can only impatiently wait for the next installment and perhaps, in the meantime, re-read and share this inspiring debut novel by Miko Johnston*.
*Inspired by memories the author’s grandmother passed down.
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