Reviews & Awards
WRITER’S DIGEST 89TH ANNUAL WRITING COMPETITION 2020
Congratulates Shelly Sanders
on being awarded
in the Inspirational/Spiritual
The Immortal Samovar
RACHEL's SECRET (Second Story Press, 2012) 256 pages
* (Starred review) BOOKLIST
When 14-year-old Rachel's father prods her about her withdrawn behavior, she implores him, "If you had a secret but knew it could cause trouble if you told, what would you do?" Living under Russian rule in Kishinev in 1903, Rachel was one of the last people to see her Christian friend Mikhail alive when she witnessed his murder at the hands of disgruntled relatives who stood to lose out on an inheritance. His death is blamed on Jews, however, and a vicious pogrom is unleashed on the city. Rachel's anguish about knowing what happened stems from a justified fear of not being believed if she comes forward, thus evoking more turmoil. She also harbors guilt that her somewhat risky friendship with a non-Jewish boy somehow triggered the calamity. Basing the story on historical record, Sanders weaves a tale of catastrophe stemming from unbridled hatred, spreading of untruths, and lack of commitment to public safety on the part of officials. And while Rachel does act courageously and courtroom justice is meted out, virulent anti-Semitism still rules the day. In an artful way throughout this absorbing, chilling tale, characters wonder what can stop the tragedy of hatred from overcoming community, a question that will prompt readers to wonder the same.
iTunes Book of the Week (May 10, 2012)
In 1903 Russia, a fourteen-year-old Jewish girl dreams of becoming more than the mother and homemaker that tradition dictates--she wants to be a writer. But when a Christian man is killed and she must keep the murderer's identity a secret, events spiral out of control. As violence against Jews break out in what would become known as the Kishinev pogrom, she faces devastation and eventually finds love in a story that's ultimately both moving and provocative. Rachel's Secret effectively uses the historical record to create a compelling image of this troubled period, making meaningful points about the role of hatred and hope in society--how young people can break free from the shackles of tradition.
"Critical for its underexplored subject."
Association of Jewish Libraries' Sydney Taylor Book Award, 2013--Commended (Rachel's Secret)
Canadian Children's Book Centre Our Choice Book, 2012--Commended (Rachel's Secret)
TD Canadian Book Week Author May 2-9, 2015
Word on the Street: Toronto Book & Magazine Festival 2013--Panel Member: This is not the Shakespeare Stage
Topic for discussion: We found love in a hopeless place
Association of Jewish Libraries' Sydney Taylor Book Award, 2015 (Rachel's Hope)
Vine Awards for Jewish Literature: Shortlisted for Rachel's Hope, 2016
RACHEL's PROMISE (Second Story Press, 2013) 250 pages
Starred Review, CM Magazine December 20, 2013
...Like the first book of the trilogy, Rachel's Promise has been meticulously researched. All the grim details of the gruelling three thousand mile, three week train journey that Rachel's famiky endures have been captured here, as is the harrowing atmosphere of the five day sea voyage to Shanghai...While Sergei questions his course of action in his dark and desperate circumstances, Rachel questions the place of religion in the wake of her father's murder. She tells her sister, "We have to make choices to do things that will improve our lives, instead of hoping for divine help that will never come."
While their struggles may sound bleak and depressing, Sanders' characters are anything but....Both Rachel and Sergei's lives are filled with a wide variety of characters that complete the picture of the world Sanders has recreated.
Association of Jewish Libraries
Sanders vividly describes the conditions of the factory workers while contrasting their lives with the extravagance of the czar's castle and those of diplomats in St. Petersburg. In addition, she conveys information about the Jewish immigrant community in Shanghai during the early twentieth century. Recommended for all libraries.
Historical Novel Society, February 2014
This is a wrenching story of a Russian-Jewish family fleeing the pogroms of the early 20th century, the second novel in a planned trilogy. Rachel's father has been killed, and in this novel she and her mother and sister travel across Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway, and on to Shanghai. Rachel leaves behind a young friend, Sergei, who despite being Christian seems sympathetic to Rachel and her people. Sergei runs away from home, away from his father, a policeman, who takes part in the pogroms. This novel follows both young people in alternating chapters, fostering the impression that these two will somehow meet in the third novel...Sanders combines her own family history with larger known historical events--the Russo-Japanese War, the organized strikes of pre-revolutionary Russia and the Jewish community that settled in Shanghai.
RACHEL's HOPE (Second Story Press, 2014) 288 pages
Starred Review, CM Magazine
...Shelly Sanders delivers and exciting plot, an ambitious historical context, and engaging, complex characters.
Sanders has her finger on the zeitgeist of this era. She puts readers inside the head of a young and scared Russian revolutionary who starves for both bread and freedom. Through dialogue and character exposition, readers understand the complexities of the women's suffrage movement. Her characters discuss and explore issues fundamental to all immigrants, but with a focus on the Jewish experience--are we safe? whom do we trust? can I be a Jew and an American?
Booklist, October 30, 2014
...a good job of illustrating many facets and challenges of immigrant life, including assimilation, work, self-fulfillment, and sense of home. The series finale will resonate most with those familiar with the previous titles.