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Book Reviews

Lunch with Lenin and Other Stories

by Deborah Ellis

Deborah Ellis is no stranger to the world of politically themed young adult fiction. Her latest book, Lunch with Lenin, is a powerful and skillfully executed collection of short stories about the impact of drugs, alcohol, and addiction on the lives of young people.

The stories portray teens in widely diverse settings. Kids in Moscow’s Red Square, the streets of Ulan Bataar in Mongolia, a wealthy religious school in Bolivia, and the tiny community of Hay River in Canada’s Northwest Territories are all struggling with the impact of illicit substances or addiction on themselves, their families, and their communities.

The sheer variety of settings gives a unique flavour to each story, while highlighting the ubiquity of a global problem. From the young girl in Afghanistan whose impoverished family is dependent upon the harvest of poppies for the heroin trade, to the teen in smalltown Ontario who purchases marijuana from the high school dealer in order to assist his ailing, arthritic grandmother, Ellis’s scenarios illuminate the moral complexity inherent in the global drug trade.

The issues addressed in Lunch with Lenin are far from simplistic, and the author deftly avoids imposing Afterschool Special-style conclusions. Ellis’s characters find themselves in frightening situations not necessarily by choice, but as a result of desperate situations, poverty, and neglect, which forces young readers to examine their own assumptions about those involved with drugs and alcohol.

Unfortunately, many teen readers tend to overlook collections of short fiction when selecting leisure reading material. This collection is guaranteed to provoke discussion and debate among those who do read it, particularly at the junior high and early high school level, and is likely to attract teachers looking for accessible and interesting classroom reading.