If you think growing up in America is hard right now, what with worrying about grades, dates, and Facebook/Twitter updates, well, we dare you to walk a mile in Sasha's shoes. His dad's been arrested, his mom is dead, and he's left alone and homeless. But there's a bright patch behind all these clouds in Breaking Stalin's Nose: Sasha seems to be maturing, and as the novel progresses, he moves from being a naive idealist who blindly believes what he's told, to becoming a stronger kid who challenges the system and questions his own beliefs—even if it's only in a small way. At least for now.
Vovka has had to grow up much more quickly than has Sasha, which is why he knows how to game the system more effectively.
Sasha doesn't really have any positive adult mentors to help him grow and mature. The State has basically assumed that role.