Bullying and homosexuality are both handled quite well in this story from Russia. A young boy, Grisha, has been a part of a theater of puppeteers as long as he can remember. His goal is to continue that life but boys at his school are bullying him because of his small frame, and even his grandfather thinks he is not “macho” enough.
When his best friend, Sam, leaves Russia after refusing to deal any longer with the homophobia he faced and when Grisha’s best friend, Sashok, (who happens to be a girl) has to deal with a potentially fatal heart condition, Grisha’a world comes tumbling down around him. He begins to question whether or not he is gay, and begins to wonder if his life would be like Sam’s if he were gay.
The protagonist in the story is very young, yet he seems to have insights that reach far beyond his years. This is a very moving, extremely well-written tale, but I think it might be emotionally too advanced for elementary readers, and the age of the main character might turn off the older readers. I am just not sure who the audience will be. I liked the ending that leaves the reader wondering if perhaps Grisha is not gay and will not have to continue living with the bullying.
I am recommending it as an optional purchase for middle school and high school libraries, although I think it would make an excellent book for English teachers to use as a novel study in a World Literature class.