Back in the USSR

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Pub Date 01 Dec 2022 | Archive Date 04 Dec 2022

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They can ban rock.

They can breed fear.

But one record spins out of control.

When Harrison George, son of American diplomats, arrives in Cold War Moscow for winter break, he plans to daydream and hang out with his friend Prudence Akobo, street-smart daughter of foreign correspondents.

Instead, he and Prudence stumble onto the trail of the Album, a long lost Beatles relic and priceless symbol of freedom in a country where rock music is banned.

Chased by treasure hunters, gangsters and spies, they don’t know who to trust. If they don’t find the Album first, they could end up missing — or dead — themselves.

Harrison and Prudence face a choice. Will they be pawns in a game of global conflict, or can they help a maverick KGB agent on a mission of personal redemption?

Back in the USSR will appeal to fans of Alex Rider, Code Name Verity, and I Must Betray You, and anyone who loves the music of the Beatles.

They can ban rock.

They can breed fear.

But one record spins out of control.

When Harrison George, son of American diplomats, arrives in Cold War Moscow for winter break, he plans to daydream and...

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ISBN 9798986169910
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Average rating from 6 members

Featured Reviews

The story begins with Prudence begging Harrison (her best friend in Moscow) for a taped copy of The White Album, one of the Beatles' most famous recordings. The government in the USSR has banned decadent western music, so everyone in Moscow wants to get a copy of the album! Harrison does not realize it but he and the album are highly sought after and prized.

This story slips in and out of the bad side of life in the Soviet Union. They feel the music destroys the control that the government holds over the people. A long term in jail could result from being caught with the music.

Harrison’s quest to find the mysterious lady of his dreams leads him and Prudence into a very dangerous situation. Gangsters and underworld figures will stop at nothing to get the album or tape. Prudence’s parents are Canadian and Harrison’s are U.S. citizens and both of their parents work in embassies. Harrison and Prudence manage to stay one step ahead of the gangs and organized mobsters.

This book is fun and fast-moving and the characters are well-developed. Geared for a younger target, but you might very well enjoy the adventure, I know I did. 4.5 stars – CE Williams

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I didn't realize when I requested the book that it was intended for a teenage and YA audience, and I am well beyond that age category. My four-star rating is based on what I believe will be its appeal to a younger audience, and I hope will introduce them to some recent cultural history of the Soviet Union and the music of the Beatles. They should find it an exciting story.

I found this to be a nostalgic read. I remember when the Beatles and their music first burst on the western scene. I had been a tourist in Russia when Kruschev was in control. Much later, I travelled to some countries comprising part of the former USSR and later to Russia again after Putin took over. While reading the book, the song Back in the USSR resounded in my mind.

Harrison George, a fourteen-year-old, overly imaginative but quiet American boy, arrives in Moscow to visit his parents, diplomats at the American embassy. He was inadvertently named with a Beatles name in reverse. He brings a Beatle tape with him, which he shares with a friend, Pru. She is the daughter of reporters, a Canadian and an Ethiopian, is adventurous and speaks Russian. She was named after a Beatles song, Dear Prudence.

On the plane, Harrison was seated beside a Russian man who expressed an interest in Western culture and the Beatles' music. Later at a Christmas party at the embassy, he sees his mother in conversation with the man from the plane. They are discussing the hidden spirituality and religion in Russia, and his mother quotes Lenin in favour of science and cultural norms. The man retorts with a quote from Lennon (John), suggesting a decline in spirituality. Harrison learns the man is KGB. Will he be a friend or for when they meet again?

When Harrison and Pru visit a market, they stop at a booth where some black-market tapes are sold. They see an extraordinarily beautiful woman, and Pru decides to follow her as a lark. They had noticed a man at the booth and see his dead body on the street. He has a tattoo marking him as a member of the Russian Mafia.

Decadent western culture has been suppressed and outlawed in the USSR. Beatle records have become a valuable commodity for collectors. The Mafia intends to get possession of the White Album (missing in Russia) and enrich themselves by making copies of the record album. The Minister of Culture is after the album to destroy it.

Harrison and Pru find themselves on a wild adventure after seeing the dead member of the Mafia lying in the street. They are captured by the Mafia and find themselves in a series of incidents involving Beatles music. Harrison phones an old classmate in America, Max, a physics genius. Not wanting to be overheard on the phone, they devise a backwards code like the Beatles inserted in an album. Max suggests that Harrison and Pru are not involved in these events by chance or coincidence. By following his physics reasoning, they are the cause and attract such events. Tapes of rock music, including Beatles, can be found on the black market, some disguised as Russian legal music. On these, Pru and Harrison find codes directing them to illegal concerts. With collectors, the Government and Mafia after the White album, the two young people decide it is safer to have the album in their possession. Not a wise decision.
The story concludes with a dazzling New Years' celebration in Red Square, where the teens have a dangerous encounter. A lovely outcome occurs, but only in Harrison's imagination, but we hope it becomes true.
Recommended for young people for its musical references, intrigue, and exciting chase scenes. It is due to be published on December 1. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advance copy.

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The back-cover synopsis had me lunging for this book, which I easily read in just a couple of evenings. It's quite the page-turner! Now, I'm not going to write a book report describing the plot for you. All you need to know about the premise is in the synopsis. If it's tickled your curiosity, just take a leap of faith and hang on - it's gonna be a bumpy, wild ride.

One of my favorite characteristics of our protagonist, Harrison, is his delightfully out-of-control imagination, which brings the sights and people of Moscow to life in surreal ways. Imagine a crowded street, when suddenly all the pedestrians turn into roly-poly Matryoshkas, Russian nesting dolls. Or hearing "Kopek for your thoughts, tovarish?" from the guy who's sat down next to you on a park bench, and when you look at him, it's a bronze statue of Lenin taking a break from its pedestal.

Harrison's bestie is Prudence. While he comes to Moscow during American school breaks to visit his parents, Pru's living in the city full-time and attending a Russian school. They nicely fill in the blanks for each other - she's better at reading Russian, he's got access to Western things like Walkmans and music cassettes. However, they both share an obsession with the Beatles and seem to know everything about their music and careers.

The book's author grew up as a child of diplomats, and it shows in his beautifully crafted descriptions of Moscow's buildings and people, He brings the city to life for us readers. We see everything through Harrison's eyes, a Moscow that is both a beautiful, historic marvel, and also a waking nightmare. A visit to the Bolshoi is especially memorable, as is an underground nightclub.

A clever trick Harrison uses to speak freely on the phone with a friend back in the States is both impressive AND a tribute to one of the weirder aspects of Beatlemania.

If you love spy thrillers, slick heist capers, National Treasure-ish quests, you'll enjoy this. If you want to know more about Russia, Moscow, and even the Beatles, you're going to learn a lot! For example, I never knew that "Once, people made record albums from X-ray films. But those music-on-bones records are difficult to make."

This is a YA novel, but don't limit yourself if you're older. YA readers will be amazed at the music culture of the Beatles era, but us older folks will find ourselves smiling knowingly from time to time. highly recommend this unique adventure.

My thanks to author Patrick D. Joyce and NetGalley for allowing me to read a digital advance review copy of this book. This review is my honest and unbiased opinion.

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Fast-paced, fun and full of appealing characters who pop off the page, grab you and pull you in. It’s a page-turner that revolves around Soviets, spies, a secret cold war map - and the Beatles.

This is a book about rock ’n’ roll and its power to fight suppression, feed the human spirit and kick butt.

The author is a true wordsmith. His descriptions are bullseye spot-on and give the book a You-Are-There quality - while his prose is packed with numerous turns of phrase so fresh and crisp it feels like reading Raymond Chandler or Jonathan Carroll.

Highly recommended.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advance copy.

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