‘Saving Zasha’ by Randi Barrow

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Rating: 5 stars

Saving Zasha by Randi Barrow is a middle grade story that will touch the hearts of all who read it.

This story is different than most books written for children aged nine to twelve. It takes place in post-World War II Russia, an unusual setting and an unusual time period for children’s book settings.

Saving Zasha revolves around Zasha, a beautiful German shepherd who arrives into the life of Mikhail with her wounded owner. Mikhail brings them both to the farmhouse where he lives with his mother, his older brother and his younger sister. His father, a Russian soldier, has not returned from the war although Mikhail refuses to believe that he is dead.

The wounded man dies immediately, and Mikhail and his family adopt Zasha. There’s a huge problem, though. Because of the war, most of the dogs in Russia are dead–either used by the soldiers as weapons of war or starved to death. Now, because of the national hatred for Germany and everything German, all dogs of German ancestry are hated and killed.

There are also dog thieves who steal dogs to sell at a huge profit. And in these uncertain times, it becomes very dangerous for Mikhail and his family to keep Zasha.

But the bond between Zasha and Mikhail was immediate. She is intelligent, loving and affectionate, and Mikhail will go to any lengths to protect Zasha and keep her safe.

In addition to the dog thieves, there are others who would take Zasha. A classmate of Mikhail’s, who aspires to be an investigative reporter, snoops around and suspects that they are harboring a dog.

Mikhail and his family are close-knit and strong and their love for Zasha helps them overcome many obstacles. However, this book is not for the faint of heart. The stories about the abuse of dogs in war are blunt and will shock many young readers.

But the main message in the story is one of hope, and the happiness and joy a loving dog can bring to a family–especially to a fatherless boy who has lost much in a savage war.

This book would be a perfect choice for reluctant boy readers although girl readers will love it just as much.