From School Library Journal
Grade 8–10—Russians and alcohol go hand in hand, both in ignorant stereotypes and in 15-year-old Alyssa's experiences. The daughter of Russian immigrants, she is used to seeing her parents find any occasion to imbibe. But when her mother's drinking starts to get out of control, it's not just insensitive comments from thoughtless classmates that are the problem. While Alyssa works to navigate having her first boyfriend, her newly popular best friend, and her cross-country running career, she is simultaneously—and single-handedly—covering up for her mother's growing alcohol abuse while her workaholic father stands by in willful denial until he realizes he must act. Alyssa feels more and more isolated until her new boyfriend, Keith, offers insight that helps "New Alyssa" temper "Old Alyssa's" enabling behaviors. Though the imagery is a bit heavy-handed in parts, the topic of parental alcoholism is an important one to address, and the Russian Jewish teen is an uncommon protagonist in YA literature, both of which create an interesting narrative perspective. The day-to-day nature of Alyssa's story is a refreshing take on the YA problem novel, one that refuses melodrama and favors instead the powerful significance of the smaller moments of life—a smell, a look, a flash of a memory.—Jennifer Miskec, Longwood University, Farmville, VA
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Growing up in a Russian Jewish community in suburban New Jersey, Alyssa, 15, gets advice from her best friend about how to fit in with the popular high-school crowd. Alyssa especially wants to hook up with Keith, who runs with her on the cross-country team, and she is thrilled when he returns her interest, and they make out. The love story is steamy in this first novel, told in Alyssa’s immediate, present-tense voice. But Gelbwasser tackles more than romance here. Alyssa’s beloved mom has become an alcoholic, and Dad hides from the problem. Will Mom disgrace the family at their Russian synagogue, where everyone loves to drink? Will she show up drunk at Alyssa’s school? Will AA help? Rooted in the author’s Russian Jewish immigrant background, the story is both hilarious and heartbreaking, and the situations are universal. Some readers may find themselves slowed by the details, but the story, especially the ending, is honest and unsentimental about the difficulties Alyssa faces. Grades 9-12. --Hazel Rochman
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