The trilogy that began with Rachel’s Secret continues here with part two, Rachel’s Promise, in which Rachel, her sister, her brother and her physically fragile mother, desperately attempt to flee Russia and hope to reach America after the violent pogrom in which Rachel’s father was killed and her family’s life forever changed. The journey is frightening and challenging in many ways, filled with danger, hard work and the need for constant courage and both physical and emotional strength. Rachel and her family finally arrive in Shanghai as a way station, still hoping to make it to America some day but knowing that for the time being they must learn to navigate this strange new culture and build a new life. Rachel finds backbreaking work as a laundress to support her family but her dream is to write. She convinces the publisher of a Jewish newspaper in Shanghai to let her write stories, at first without credit, and she begins to hone her writing skill and develop her confidence as a writer. Rachel eventually reaches America and struggles to decide how much of her Jewish identity to bring with her into her new life.
Meanwhile, her non-Jewish friend, Sergei, faces his own set of challenges as he, too, leaves their Russian village in search of work to support his family and comes face to face with the plight of the Russian worker in the early part of the twentieth century. Rebellion is dangerous but seems necessary and right. Rachel and Sergei stay in touch through letters and each hope to meet again someday in America.
The story is well paced and the characters are sympathetically drawn, with conflicts and dilemmas that reflect the issues of their day. The author includes a detailed historical note about the events of the time and tells the reader that the character of Rachel is based on the life of her grandmother who fled Russia, attended school in Shanghai and immigrated to the United States. The reader awaits the resolution of the story in the third part of the trilogy, yet to come. Recommended for ages 10 and up.
Michal Hoschander Malen is the editor of Jewish Book Council’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A former librarian, she has lectured on topics relating to literacy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.