Newberry Award Winner Eugene Yelchin needs no introduction, so of course I get to review/consider his memory for the Cybils. Thank you to Candlewick Press for the review copy of THE GENIUS UNDER THE TABLE: Growing up Behind the Iron Curtain.

With short chapters – some as short as 2-3 pages, all broken up with Yelchin’s funky mid-century mod illustrations or visual interest – this book will engage a reluctant reader.

But don’t let the brevity fool you – this book blew me away. It’s a haunting, hilarious, 21st century answer to PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN, but with a more likable main character. And kids are more likely to keep reading vs scrounge for the Cliff’s Notes.

A teenager in 1970’s Leningrad, Yevgeny (Eugene) is desperate to discover his artistic talent. It’s the only way out of a very scary life behind the Iron Curtain. As a teenager, he steals his dad’s pencils and draws under his wisecracking grandmother’s table in between his much-loathed ballet classes.

But along the way of finding his talents, Yevgeny learns a lot about truth, mysteries, creativity, and life, that will leave the reader in chills long after closing the book.

A geriatric millennial, I thought I had heard all the bad stories from Easten European immigrant classmates. But Yelchin’s descriptions of disappearing family members, rationing, and government misinformation are bone-chilling.


  • Trigger warning: Antisemitism seems to be part and parcel of 1970’s USSR, taking the form of name-calling, Eugene and his brother Victor getting beat up, and a swastika drawn on the family’s front door.


If I were going to sit here and type out all the reasons THE GENIUS UNDER THE TABLE is brilliant, this blog post would be longer than the book itself. But – holy crap, this book is amazing.

THE GENIUS UNDER THE TABLE is available now from Candlewick Press.

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