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Take one part Peter Pan, blend it with a book on Russian history, and top it off with street-wise hip hop lyrics, and you have the perfect recipe for The Wild Children.
The Wild Children was published in 1985 by Felice Holman, a notable young adult fiction writer who burst onto the scene with her 1974 novel Slake's Limbo. But Holman isn't your conventional YA author: She writes books that are influenced by life on the streets, rather than life in the classroom. In the years following Slake's Limbo's release, Holman became obsessed with stories about the 1920's homelessness epidemic in the Soviet Union, prompting her to write a novel that dissected this piece of fascinating history.
Open up the book and you'll meet Alex, a twelve-year-old Russian kid who's probably not all that different from you. But Alex's world is abruptly turned upside-down when his entire family is arrested in the middle of the night by the Soviet secret police, forcing him to undergo the long trek to Moscow (on foot) to hook up with his Uncle Dmitri. Unfortunately, Alex realizes that he went from the frying pan into the fire when he discovers that his uncle has been arrested, too.
As you might imagine, things get pretty crazy from there. Alex meets Peter, the leader of a gang, and starts stealing just to survive. He travels to the southern region of the country, where an unforeseen tragedy turns his world upside-down once again. And ultimately, he makes a pivotal choice that will change his life—as well as the lives of his friends—forever.
In other words, this is one wild book. To be honest, it doesn't matter if you're a young adult, a thirty-something, or an elderly grandpa—everyone can find something worthwhile in The Wild Children.
Does your family drive you crazy sometimes? Do you sometimes feel lost and confused? Do you have a crush on one of your teachers? (We've all been there, fellow Shmoopers—no shame in the teacher crush game.) If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you and Alex have a lot more in common than you might think. But this isn't why you should care.
Nope, the reason you should are about The Wild Children is that—thanks to Alex being so relatable—you'll get sucked into a time and place completely different from the one we're living in. We're talking about the Soviet Union in the 1920s. And the Soviet Union in the 1920s is not only a majorly different beast from life as we know it, it's a major historical moment, too.
The Soviet Union was a big deal. Thanks to a revolution that overthrew various czars, the Soviet Union began the world's first large-scale experiment in socialism. Russia—where Alex lives—was a big player in this experiment, with the Supreme Soviet (a.k.a. the big cheese of all the soviets, which were kind of like councils) located in Moscow (source). While the Soviet Union eventually crumbled, it's legacy lingers on today, with some people thinking the flawed experiment was totally worth it and others thinking it was pretty much terrible through and through.
So crack open The Wild Children to dive into Soviet history. It's a lot safer to read about than it was to live through.
A Brief History of Russia
Want to learn about nearly two thousand years of history without breaking a sweat? Check it out.
Curious about how Moscow's transformed over time? Visit the bustling metropolis from the comfort of your own home via the Lonely Planet guide to the city.
Soviet Childcare Propaganda
This interesting article from Slate dissects Soviet propaganda about children that was created mere years after the events of The Wild Children.
Soviet Space Dogs
If you want something a little bit lighter, check out this awesome article about the stray dogs that would become the first astronauts in space.
The Soviet Revolution
Want to learn more about the Soviet Revolution? As usual, the History Channel has you covered.
The Fall of the Soviet Union
On the other hand, if you'd prefer to see how things ended for the U.S.S.R., then check out this informative documentary.
The Russian Rulers History Podcast
Although it's pretty heady, this stellar podcast will give you a great deal of insight into the history of Russia.
How Soviet Kitchens Became Hotbeds of Dissent
This compelling piece from NPR discusses how cooking became a way for Russians to voice their displeasure about the Soviet government.
Despite what you might think after reading The Wild Children, Moscow is actually a pretty baller city. Just check out this photo if you don't believe us.
The Soviet Flag
Love 'em or hate 'em, you have to admit the Soviet Union had one killer flag.