Review: Morgan True Blum's "The Breadwinner"
Updated: Aug 15, 2019
““Don’t tell me you haven’t thought of trying to cover up those bruises?”… Aunt Poppy leaned against the table and cocked a hand on her hip.
“Malyuka,” little one, “you keep this up any longer and people are going to think you have landed yourself a man.””
The Breadwinner, Chapter 27
Starting with this quote might really throw some people off, but I mean it when I say that I laughed out loud completely by myself when I read this. Then, I immediately grabbed my phone and took a picture of the page to save it for later. It may be a bit cynical of me to find this quote funny, but what I think I like about it so much is that it felt like it was placed there on purpose for me, and when I say me, I mean the ‘older’ reader. Although this book contains some dark themes such as some low-key genocide and gang violence, it reads a lot like a book middle-school age me would have read and OBSESSED over (seriously, I might not have shut up about it until at least the start of 8th grade when fangirling over a fictional book starts to feel weird in a social setting). Some of the content may be dark, but it is described and presented in a way that reads as responsible, and aware of a younger audience. And yet, we swing back around to the quote above, there are little bits of more adult pleasure and content cleverly snuck in for any 18+ readers out there. This is something big companies like Disney make so much money doing, and Morgan True Blum nuances her wide-ranged audience flawlessly.
The Breadwinner is a YA historical fiction (more on that later) featuring fantasy, fay, and an angry fire guy. The main character, Pasha, is a Russian immigrant struggling to survive in 1924’s New York. In order to help support his mother, Lydia, and his younger sister, Katya, he joins a notorious gang called The Breadwinners. Pasha lives a discouraging life of thieving and violence, accompanied by his friend Faina. That is, until a Firebird starts getting him out of tricky situations and a mysterious gypsy caravan rolls into town. Quickly, Pasha’s life is thrust away from the unfulfilled American Dream and into a whole new world full of magical beings, blood-thirsty villains, and a painfully similar kind of injustice.
I truly enjoyed reading this book from start to finish. I mean it when I say that every time I closed the book, I was eager to jump back in and read more. Although I reminisce about how younger me would have lost their mind over this book, older me still had a damn good time. One of the characteristics that this book had that really improved my experience of it was the pacing. I have ADHD and unfortunately, once I fall out of a book (which happens sadly far too often), it is near impossible for me to get back to it again (looking at YOU lying over there on my desk). But the rapid pacing, sparing no time for filler or nonsense, kept my impatient mind interested and hooked.
My favorite character is a mermaid named Sonata who had her bottom half (legs in human form and end of the tail fin in mermaid form) cut off by the big bad guys the C.O.N. She is outspoken, gentle, wise, stubborn, driven, and not to mention cool as all hell with her magical prosthetics. (Maybe I don’t have to be a kid to be obsessed with this book because I kind-of really want an art print of her… which, cool side-note, the Morgan True Blum is an amazingly multi-talented individual and did all the illustrations for her book herself).
Unfortunately, as much as I love this book, I do have to lean into critique by principle.
Swinging the circle back to this book’s genre, I want to talk more about it being a historical fiction. If I’m being honest, I find this book to be more fantasy than history (although I’m sure it took a large amount of research to write this book). The lines between historical fiction and a fiction book with a specific setting in history unfortunately get blurry sometimes. Plenty of fantastical YA books are set in a specific time, that is all part of setting, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a historical fiction.
My other critique is that it did oftentimes feel as if the characters were helped out too conveniently, or like the plot was pushed forwards in a way that seemed too easy or glaringly obvious. This may have been a result of over-plotting in the drafting phase which can cause the author’s intentions to shine through too clearly. That being said, Morgan True Blum is not at all nice to her babies and has no problem putting them in awful situations for a while. She is certainly not waiting around to swoop in and save them the moment they face danger. She lets them face the big bad for a bit before pardoning them.
In summary, this book was a true pleasure and I sincerely cannot wait to get my hands on the sequel The Glassblower. Like, I specifically didn’t read the teaser at the end of The Breadwinner because I want to go into The Glassblower 100% fresh and unawares.
You can buy The Breadwinner on Amazon at the link below:
And you can follow the author Morgan True Blum on Instagram @morgan_true_blum_author_artist