Cover image for The impossible journey
The impossible journey
Whelan, Gloria.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York, N.Y. : HarperCollins Publishers, [2003]

Physical Description:
248 pages; 19 cm
In 1934, thirteen-year-old Marya and her younger brother, Georgi, set out alone on a long and arduous journey into Siberia to find their mother after she and their father are exiled for opposing Stalin.
Reading Level:
790 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 5.2 6.0 67635.

Reading Counts RC 6-8 6.1 11 Quiz: 33003 Guided reading level: W.

Format :


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X Juvenile Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf

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One Russian night in 1934, Marya and Georgi's parents disappear. Despite high risks, Katya and Misha had spoken against the government. The children, alone and desperate, fear the worst. Will they ever see their parents again?

But all it takes is one crumpled letter to give Marya and Georgi hope and send them on a dangerous mission to reunite their family. They must steal away in the dark of night, escape the city, and find passage to the great Siberian wilderness. And even then, if they succeed in getting away, their journey will have only just begun.

In this companion novel to her breathtaking Russian epic Angel on the Square, National Book Award winning author Gloria Whelan takes readers on a remarkable journey that is both perilous and transforming.

Author Notes

Gloria Whelan was born on November 23, 1923 in Detroit, Michigan. She took a strong interest in reading early in life when she was bedridden for a year with rheumatic fever. She dictated stories to her sister who would then type them. She then went on to writing poetry and later editing her high school newspaper. She attended the University of Michigan and earned her and M.S.W. degree. She began working as a social worker in Minneapolis and Detroit. She soon became tired of Detroit's hectic pace and moved to a cabin in northern Michigan.This peace was disrupted by an oil company 's desire to drill on her property. Because she did not own the mineral rights, the drilling proceeded. This experience inspired Gloria Whelan to write her children's novel, A Clearing in the Forest in 1978, which was about a boy working on an oilrig. Gloria Whelan has written several works of fiction for children and adults, many set in rural Michigan. She has also written stories set in exotic places like China and India. She won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature in 2000 for Homeless Bird - the story of a young woman in India abandoned by her mother-in-law.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 5^-8. In a companion to Angel on the Square (2001), Whelan turns her attentions to Stalinist Russia, circa 1934. Following the murder of a local Communist party official, 13-year-old Marya's parents (the grown-up Katya and Mishka from the earlier novel) are arrested and sent into exile. Marya and her younger brother Georgi try to manage on their own at first, but eventually they set off on a long trek from Leningrad to Siberia, where they hope to locate their mother. Although the odds are great, with help from a kindly doctor, a fisherman's wife, and a band of nomadic Samoyeds, they succeed. Whelan centers her narrative on the children's journey, adding depth with a wealth of rich background details--about political prisons, the prevailing attitudes toward Communist dissidents, the changing lifestyles of the indigenous peoples of Siberia, and the absence of personal and religious freedoms, and much more. Give this to children who liked the previous book and to fiction fans who are interested in this historical period. A glossary of Russian terms is appended. --Kay Weisman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Whelan once again brings to life the beauty, sadness and rich culture of Russia's past in this evocative sequel to Angel on the Square. Set a generation after the revolution, this installment opens in 1934 Leningrad and focuses on the children of Katya and Misha, who find themselves alone and desperate after Misha is arrested and Katya is exiled to Siberia. Thirteen-year-old narrator Marya has little hope of finding her father, but she is determined to reunite with her mother. Armed with a map torn from her schoolbook, she and her younger brother, Georgi, set off on a 1,000-mile journey north, "an impossible distance." Suspense runs high as the children, traveling without passports or adequate funds, encounter numerous obstacles as well as some surprising acts of kindness from strangers before reaching their mother's village. A frightening confrontation with a Samoyed tribe proves to be as advantageous as a chance meeting with a prison doctor, who provides a connection between the children and their father. While maintaining a delicate balance of tragic and joyful moments, the author paints a vivid, realistic picture of a newly formed communist state, where government officials have the power to turn lives upside down. The book's wistful open ending will leave readers eager for another episode. Ages 10-up. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 5-8-A story of a remarkable 13-year-old girl in an extraordinary situation. In Leningrad, in 1934, Marya sets out to find her parents, former aristocrats and therefore considered enemies of the state, who have been sent to Siberia as political prisoners. The spirited and resourceful girl learns that her mother is in Dudinka, a thousand miles from the closest railway station. Marya obtains a few rubles selling her paintings (like Kobe in Homeless Bird [HarperCollins, 2000], Marya's creativity helps sustain her) and buys tickets for herself and her younger brother. At the railway station, the children begin their trek, finding their way by following a river. Some strangers help them; others conspire to report them to the authorities for placement in an orphanage. A tribe of reindeer-herding Samoyeds helps the children to their final stop, where they are reunited with their mother. Papa, who had been sent to a coal-mining camp in Siberia, eventually joins them, but is so ill that he dies at the first signs of spring. Life under Stalin as seen through the eyes of Marya is accessible, well researched, and culturally insightful. Lyrical prose conveys both a strong sense of place and the tremendous love that compels the protagonist to find her parents. Once again, Whelan successfully explores territory less traveled in books for young people.-Connie Tyrrell Burns, Mahoney Middle School, South Portland, ME (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



The Impossible Journey Chapter One Leningrad 1934 Comrade Sergei Kirov was killed on the first day of December. That same night my parents disappeared. The day of Kirov's assassination was a school day and started out like any other. I awoke shivering because my brother, Georgi, who is seven, six years younger than I, had stolen our quilt to wrap himself like a caterpillar in its cocoon. Trying to touch as little of the cold floor as possible, I picked my way across the room. From the window I could see the snow-covered jumble of Leningrad's rooftops and, beyond them, the Neva River. The freezing winds were rushing down from Siberia to lock the Neva in ice. I pulled on wool stockings and slipped a sweater over my blouse, leaving my hair for Mama to braid. Then I did something wicked. There are people who carefully plan all they do. I'm sure such people never get into trouble. But how do they get anything done? If you think too much about a plan, you think of all the reasons against carrying it out. I rush at things and never make plans. With me everything gets done. The trouble comes later. I hastily opened a dresser drawer and felt way in the back for the little box I had once discovered there. Inside the box, wrapped in flannel, was a gold locket wreathed with tiny diamonds. I slipped the flannel with the locket into my pocket. Before I left the room, I poked at the soft lump that was Georgi to awaken him. When he pretended to be asleep, I poked harder. "You have to get up, or we'll be late for school." "Marya, let me be," his muffled voice came from deep inside the covers. "It's too cold to get up." I gave the quilt a tug, unrolling Georgi. Ducking the pillows he flung my way, I hurried into the warmth of the kitchen. The tiny kitchen was off our sitting room, where Mama and Papa slept. Down a hall was the washroom, which we shared with the Zotov family. Sergei Ivanovich Zotov was a tall, skinny man like a twist of rope. Olga Pavlovna Zotov was thin like her husband and greedy. If we left our soap in the washroom, it disappeared. We often found bear hairs in the bathtub, for Mr. Zotov owned a bear cub. You could find Mr. Zotov any day on the Nevsky Prospekt, Leningrad's main street. Holding the cub's leash in one hand and a tin cup in the other, he collected money from the passersby. When a cub grew too large, Mr. Zotov sold it off to a circus. With the money he bought a new cub. Our warm kitchen was my favorite place. The teakettle was dancing over the fire, the steam from its spout clouding the windows. The day before, Papa had gone to the pawnshop and traded his fur hat to get money for a winter jacket for Georgi. Mama was setting out sausage and cheese and bowls of hot kasha. "Let me do your hair, Marya," she said. Mama was gentle, never pulling too tightly. Papa watched. "Spun gold," he teased. "It would take only a lock or two to buy the whole city." "St. Petersburg is already ours," Mama said. "We have the Summer Garden and the Neva and the Prospekt. It's all there for the taking." "Katya," Papa cautioned. "Not St. Petersburg! It is now Leningrad. What if the children should call the city St. Petersburg in front of strangers? The man with the mustache might hear of it." The name of our city had been changed from St. Petersburg to Leningrad after Comrade Lenin died. Lenin was the father of the Communist revolution. "The man with the mustache" was what Papa called Russia's ruler, Comrade Stalin. Papa and Mama despised Comrade Stalin, though this was a dangerous opinion to hold. Stalin's people had turned my grandmother and her friends out of their land, stealing it and forcing them onto a state farm. There the work was so hard and food so scarce, my grandmother had died. Georgi stumbled into the kitchen, his sweater inside out, one stocking on and one off. He climbed onto Mama's lap like a fledgling into its nest. "I don't think I should go to school today," he said. "I don't feel so well." Mama looked closely at him. "Does anything hurt?" she asked. Georgi thought for a minute. "My ears and my toes." Mama tried not to smile. She felt his forehead. "You're fine, Georgi. Now let me turn your sweater right side out." She gave Papa a quick, worried look. "Are we having a meeting tonight?" Papa frowned. "I think we must," he said. "Misha," Mama warned, "these are such dangerous times. Everywhere, you hear rumors that Stalin is angry with Comrade Kirov for opposing him." In this year of 1934 Comrade Kirov was the head of the Communist Party in Leningrad and the city's most important man. I had seen Kirov being driven about the city in a big black car. He was a short, square man in a worn black coat who always had bodyguards around him like a flock of crows chasing a small black bird. Papa said, "There's much about Kirov I don't trust, but what other hope do we have?" Impatient with all the talk, Georgi helped himself to more kasha, getting porridge all over the floor. Mama reached for the rag, and no more was said about the meeting. After breakfast Papa left for Leningrad University, where he ought to have been a professor, for he was very learned. Instead he worked there as a janitor, for Papa's parents had been aristocrats. Stalin said all aristocrats were enemies of the people, so Papa was no longer allowed to teach ... The Impossible Journey . Copyright © by Gloria Whelan. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from The Impossible Journey by Gloria Whelan All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.