Rachel’s Hope

By – June 15, 2015

Wel­come to turn of the cen­tu­ry San Fran­cis­co. Rachel Paskar, now 16, may be no longer live in Rus­sia, but she hasn’t for­got­ten how to face chal­lenges with courage and hope. Liv­ing with her old­er sis­ter, broth­er-in-law and Mena­hem, a young boy she escaped Rus­sia with, she faces many obsta­cles and hard­ships, includ­ing a new lan­guage and cus­toms. As she writes to her friend Sergei, In some ways life is bet­ter here, but in oth­ers it’s a lit­tle disappointing.”

Rachel is a like­able char­ac­ter. Although she works as a maid, she still finds time to study Eng­lish. She does well. She also sur­vives the earth­quake and fire of 1906. The read­er quick­ly sees that no mat­ter how tough life gets, Rachel will sur­vive and over­come. Although at times, she may feel cursed, the nar­ra­tive nev­er lets the read­er for­get that Rachel is too good to be harmed.

Chap­ters told by her friend, Sergei, who has escaped Siberia, as well as a sub­plot involv­ing Anna, a young woman based on the Jew­ish- Amer­i­can social­ist, Anna Strun­sky, add tex­ture and sus­pense as well as a world­ly feel to the narrative.

Read­ers who love his­tor­i­cal fic­tion will enjoy explor­ing Sanders’ San Fran­cis­co as Rachel and her fam­i­ly learn their way around and begin to make a life. Her descrip­tions are engag­ing and spe­cif­ic. Although there are moments when this book lacks ten­sion and sus­pense, for those who loved the first two books this addi­tion will serve as a sat­is­fy­ing chap­ter in this tough young woman’s life. A glos­sary is included.

Rec­om­mend­ed for lovers of his­tor­i­cal fic­tion ages 11 – 15.

Sarah Aron­son holds an MFA in Writ­ing for Chil­dren and Young Adults from Ver­mont Col­lege. She is a full time writer and has recent­ly pub­lished her first nov­el, Head Case (Roar­ing Brook) for young adults. Sara blogs every Thurs­day for the Lilith blog.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Shelly Sanders

  1. Amer­i­can­ism is a ques­tion of prin­ci­ple, of pur­pose of ide­al­ism, of char­ac­ter. It is not a mat­ter of birth­place or creed or line of descent.”
  2. Set­ting is as impor­tant as plot in this nov­el; it pro­vides con­flicts and influ­ences char­ac­ter devel­op­ment. Explain how set­ting impacts Rachel and Sergei. Think about how dif­fer­ent this sto­ry would be if Sergei trav­elled with Rachel or if Rachel end­ed up in New York instead of San Francisco.
  3. Dis­cuss why Rachel and Nucia are at odds over their faith, and how their con­flict par­al­lels the rise of Reform Judaism.
  4. Sec­ondary char­ac­ters play large roles in Rachel’s Hope. What impact does Anna Strun­sky have on Rachel? Sim­i­lar­ly, Cyril has a tremen­dous influ­ence on Sergei, as does Max­im Gorky. Explain.
  5. Which char­ac­ter is more com­pelling, Rachel or Sergei? Why?
  6. Free­dom is a major thread in Rachel’s Hope. Dis­cuss this theme and oth­ers you’ve found with­in the story.
  7. What do these words from Pres­i­dent Theodore Roo­sevelt mean to you?
  8. Gorky says the pen is the might­i­est weapon. Do you agree or disagree?
  9. When does Rachel feel tru­ly assim­i­lat­ed? Do you think Sergei will ever assim­i­late to North Amer­i­can culture?