Review: Anastasia's Secret by Susanne Dunlap

Anastasia's Secret by Susanne Dunlap
Susanne Dunlap's website here // $11.55 from {amazon}

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (March 2, 2010)
Hardcover: 352 pages
Summary: from {goodreads}
“Will I never see you again either?” I asked, feeling as though I was about to jump off a high mountain peak and hope to land without hurting myself. That’s how impossible everything seemed at that moment, no matter what I did.
“Perhaps we will meet again,” Sasha said, softening his voice. “But you must see that it does not matter. You have so much ahead of you. It’s your choice now. Choose the future! Choose life!”
For Anastasia Romanov, life as the privileged daughter of Russia’s last tsar is about to be torn apart by the bloodshed of revolution. Ousted from the imperial palace when the Bolsheviks seize control of the government, Anastasia and her family are exiled to Siberia. But even while the rebels debate the family’s future with agonizing slowness and the threat to their lives grows more menacing, romance quietly blooms between Anastasia and Sasha, a sympathetic young guard she has known since childhood. But will the strength of their love be enough to save Anastasia from a violent death?
Inspired by the mysteries that have long surrounded the last days of the Romanov family, Susanne Dunlap’s new novel is a haunting vision of the life—and love story—of Russia’s last princess.

Rating: View my rating system.

My Thoughts: Anastasia's Secret is a beautiful, historic tale of a young girl growing up and dealing with love and loss. The only difference is that, in this case, the young girl is the Grand Duchess of the Soviet Union, who's increasingly exiled as the rebels take over the Soviet Union. But despite Anastasia's lofty position, Susanne Dunlap makes her feel like any other girl: lonely, confused, a little lost, insecure, and yearning for love and family.

As revealed in her earlier guest post, Susanne Dunlap definitely did her research, and it shows in the vivid backdrop of Anastasia's Secret. I can't guarantee that all depictions are accurate, but they seem true to the time and quickly reeled me into the rapidly changing political climate of the early 20th century Soviet Union. My complaint is that I felt many of the characters were defined by how Anastasia perceived them rather than by their actions, though they're interesting add-ons that walk on-and-off the stage as Anastasia holds the spotlight.

Anastasia herself immediately caught me as well with her blunt, straight-forward voice coupled with all the innocence of a sheltered princess. Anastasia's the oddball of her talented siblings - don't we all feel that way? - and struggles to find her purpose and identity, endearing herself to me like a close friend. I admire Susanne Dunlap's interpretation of Anastasia as vulnerable but willing to be strong for her family, but though I applauded her open-minded and curious approach to topics, I was often annoyed by her continued naivety and lack of action. Despite Anastasia's development from a small girl to a young woman, I didn't see much change in her passive, idealist approach to her circumstances, always relying on others to find a solution for her. So please pass me a small hammer so I may knock the sharp nail of reality into her head.

The solider whom Anastasia counts upon most is Sasha, a supposedly handsome soldier approximately ten years her senior. However, in times of war, what matters most is the emotional connection they experience, and their age difference sort of fell by the wayside. Their romance is exactly what Sasha and Anastasia need through their hardships, though I got a sense that a portion of their relationship was derived from desperation rather than affection; Sasha needs a warm, comforting body while Anastasia needs someone to actually tell her everything will be okay. As for Sasha, I still feel like I barely know him. Yes, he's always there and provides the side of reality and logic that Anastasia lacks, but who exactly is he? I'm not sure. But overall, the romance was an intriguing aspect that held my attention throughout the book and, surprisingly, probably accounts for about one-third of Anastasia's Secret.

At times, the romance and relocating became repetitive and monotonous, but the differing occurrences and descriptions kept me from skipping other sections or putting the book down. Anastasia's Secret progresses at a moderate pace, and I'm happy with the epiphany Anastasia experiences at the end, though the wrap-up felt rushed considering the long journey there. But the ending is bittersweet in that we know Anastasia's inevitable fate...

Romance: A large part of the book, and a few instance of sex. I mentioned it already above, and there's nothing explicit.
Cover: 2.5 -- Sort of standard, but the model is gorgeous and looks very Russian. Not exactly how I imagined Anastasia, but I can see it, I suppose...
Writing: 3.5
Characters: 3.5
Plot: 4.0

Bottom Line: Anastasia's Secret is a rich, relatable story of Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov that fascinates me as an avid historical YA novel reader. The book itself was solid, though I more enjoyed Susanne Dunlap's take on the journey from a young princess who still has everything she could ever want to an older, more mature young woman that can now fully understand the deep connections of family and love. Susanne Dunlap definitely knows how to write historical fiction, and I give her kudos for somehow being able to pull so much from a tragic princess's exile. (After all, how much can really happen when you're confined and watched over 24/7?)

Thank you to Anna from Bloomsbury for the review copy!