Although aspects of Anastasia Krupnik are dated (Anastasia gets a record player for Christmas, she takes a sip from her dad’s beer which couldn’t be casually included in a book these days), I found it absolutely charming overall. I could identify both with Anastasia and with her parents—many of the conversations they had are variations on conversations I’ve had with my own kids, and some of Anastasia’s experiences resonate with my childhood memories.
It’s not a terribly exciting book—mostly a slice of life, covering a few major months in 10 year old Anastasia’s life where she learns that her parents are having a baby boy, she has her first major crush, and her grandmother who has Alzheimer’s passes away. These things challenge her to figure out what it means to grow up. Through it all, Anastasia keeps a running and ever-changing list of things she loves and hates in her green notebook. By the end of the book, her list of things she hates is empty (I appreciate that leaving the “hate” list doesn’t automatically mean going onto the “love” list). The list is actually shown between chapters, and I enjoyed watching it change through the book.
It’s all very self-reflective. Anastasia struggles with feelings of being dumb and unappreciated. She often both loves and hates things. She considers running away. Her point of view is the only one we see, but it’s delightfully honest, and she’s always willing to change her mind about something once she has more facts.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
Anastasia is allowed sips from her parents’ drinks. This is mentioned in passing—she doesn’t see it as a big deal, nor does she sneak more, or anything else that would turn it into an issue. Parents who feel strongly that their kids have no alcohol before age 21 (or ever) may be bothered by this.
There are several swear words, memorably a short discussion about when it’s appropriate to say “shit.” There’s mention of an off-color song “One-Ball Reilly”—I don’t think Anastasia doesn’t get the joke and I’d guess many kids won’t either—but she does know it’s an awful name and decides that’s what she wants to name her unwanted baby brother. Anastasia calls herself and other people “dumb,” although usually that opinion is reversed at some point in the story.
Anastasia wants to convert a religion that lets her change her name, like Catholicism or Hare Krishna. She obviously knows very little about either religion—the book does little to correct her misunderstandings. As a Catholic, I found it amusing. Some of you may not, however.
Anastasia’s first crush is on an African-American boy. She asks her parents if that bothers them, but they brush it off because they’re in the midst of a disagreement. Anastasia sees it as an asset—she likes his hair that’s two feet tall and stores a comb. She tries to get her hair to do the same thing and he teases her in a scene I could identify with all too well.
Anastasia’s grandmother passes away at the age of 92. It’s far from tragic, but it is very sad and beautiful. It made me cry. It’s a major plot point, but I thought it was dealt with very well—there’s talk of her going to be with Sam, her beloved husband.
I appreciated that Anastasia’s parents occasionally fight, but without threat of divorce. They obviously love their daughter as a human being, but sometimes they don’t listen to her. Anastasia struggles with her feelings about a grandmother who doesn’t remember her. It’s a nuanced and, at least to me, very realistic portrayal of a healthy but not idealized family dynamic.
I loved this book. It made me cry emotional tears several times at the end—this isn’t terribly hard to do, mind you, but most books don’t. I’m anxious for my daughter to read it, because I wonder if this is actually a better book for moms who were 10 year old girls around 1979. I wonder if she will think it’s boring and if she won’t be able to identify with Anastasia, even though I think they have a lot in common. I’ll update this once she’s read it. It’s suitable for ages 8 to 12, especially for kids dealing with things like the birth of a sibling, the death of a grandparent, or a first crush.
Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry
Published in 1979 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Read on Kindle through library loan