About the book

I’ve been hard at work on my book lately. I’m not going to finish it by June, but I’ve got momentum going now so I fully intend to finish by the end of the summer. Want to read a little more?

For some context here is Sneak Peek Part One, Part Two and Part Three. You have now met three out of the five characters. Today I will introduce you to the final two characters. Maria is becoming one of my favorite stories to write and it shouldn’t come as a surprise because her story is based on the story of a woman I knew and loved in Ukraine.

Maria’s story inspired this book.

Fourteen-year-old Maria and her brother, Sergei, are the oldest and the youngest of Ivan, who you met in Sneak Peek Two. Sergei has joined the Red Army and without him, Maria feels lost. Ivan has survived Babi Yar with his life, but emotionally and mentally he is failing. Maria longs for her brother and this passage has become a sweet moment for my characters as Maria escapes to the confines of her memory.

A particular memory keeps folding over me. The bitter, biting cold of January pushes the sun beyond the hill overlooking the Dneiper River earlier each night, and I find myself overcome with this one moment in time. I can’t escape it and so I have given myself to it. The shadows of night make fighting too difficult.

Tonight is no exception.

I’m eight years old again and we’ve gone to our dacha for the summer. The dacha – our happy place. On this particular day I wake up early and tiptoe outside to watch the sun lift up over the small lake settled at the back of our property. My long gown soaks up the morning dew and I shiver against the chill of daybreak.

As I come out of the trees into the clearing, I see him. His back is to me, long and thin, always stretching out and up. I don’t speak but the rustle of my feet in the moist leaves reveals my presence and he turns, his thin face breaking into a smile.

“What are you doing here?” he says and gestures me to come sit.

“I wanted to say good morning to the sun,” I reply and he laughs. I have always loved his laugh and even now, as I listen to it dance through my mind, I feel a smile spread slowly.

“Well, sit,” he says, and together we drop onto the banks of the lake, the rocky soil digging into the backs of our legs. I look at him, my brother, and I am completely at peace.

“Sergei?” I ask.

He turns and looks at me, his thick eyebrows raised. In this memory he is more boy than man. At twelve years old, he didn’t feel that much older, but then Sergei never did feel too old for me. Anna, on the other hand, has always seemed to be light years ahead of me in maturity despite only being two years older.

“What do you want to do when you grow up?” I ask.

Sergei takes in a deep breath and looks back out over the lake. A thin layer of orange and pink is beginning to pull up over the horizon. Daybreak is coming and our solitude will quickly slip away. I find myself wishing then and there that the sun would never rise. If only I could have frozen us on the bank of the lake for all of eternity.

If only…

“Don’t know,” Sergei says with a smile.

“You don’t know?!” I ask incredulously. “How do you not know? It’s very important to know.”

Sergei laughs again. Magic. “Well, I just don’t know yet,” he says with a grin. “Do you know what you want to do when you grow up?”

I open my mouth to answer, then snap it shut. Afraid.

“I don’t want to tell you,” I finally answer and Sergei gives me a gentle push. “See, you don’t know either,” he says with a laugh.

“I do know!” I protest. “But you can’t tell anyone yet.”

Sergei nods. “Okay,” he says and he means it. My Sergei always keeps his promise. Taking a deep breath I lift a small handful of sand and pebbles and toss them into the water, watching as a hundred droplets form rings that pierce the sheer glass of its surface. The strip of orange is getting brighter. Morning dawns.

“I want to join the circus. I want to be an acrobat.” I don’t look at him while I say this and I wait for him to laugh at me. I know I can’t even turn a cartwheel, but I truly believe acrobatics are my destiny.

Sergei is silent for a moment and I fear he is just laughing too hard to answer. Slowly I peek at him, barely turning my head. He isn’t laughing. Instead he stares intently at the rising sun. Now that she has broken the surface of the horizon it seems she is racing toward her perch in the sky. Time sped up – never slowing down.

“Okay,” he says, his eyes narrow and serious.

“Okay, what?” I ask.

“I think you should do it. I think you should plan to join the circus as an acrobat.”

I narrow my own eyes and study his profile seriously. “Are you making fun of me?” I ask evenly.

Sergei turns and looks at me, his eyes a little deeper and different. The sunlight gleams in the dark parts of his eyes swirling with an intensity that I’ve never seen before.

“Masha, you can be whatever you want to be and do whatever you want to do. You’re good and you’re a fighter. I believe you can do it…if you want to.”

We study one another for a quiet moment then he turns to look at the sky again. The colors reach from left to right as far as our eyes can see, vibrant, full and brilliant. The golden orb hangs above, giving forth the heat that will ultimately dry the grass and give way to a day of grace filled memories. I lean gently into my beloved brother and sigh.

“Thank you,” I say with a small smile.

Sergei is quiet briefly before responding. “When I grow up, Masha,” he says softly, “I will make sure that you can do and be whatever you want. That’s what I want to do.”

©Kelli Stuart 2012

Have a great day, friends. I leave tomorrow for Tanzania! Eeeek!


  1. omg, Kelli, this is awesome!

  2. Wow! Awesome!

  3. Kelli,
    I cannot believe that we’ve never met at the co-op. I’m so glad you posted a message today on the email list to let us know about forthcoming adventure! I’ve enjoyed checking out your blog and website. Can’t wait to read the novel. I hope to meet you when return from Africa. Best wishes on your ventures and adventures!

    • Thank you, Ann. Yes, I think I’ve passed many a lovely person in the halls unfortunately. I spent most of my free moments while the kids were in classes working on this book so I’m afraid I was a little anti-social. Hopefully we can meet in the future. 🙂 Thanks for your encouragement!

  4. Oh my goodness, is there anything you can’t do? 🙂 I didn’t read this excerpt yet because I want to read the others in order.

    • Ha! Well, I can’t sew, I’m not much of a cook, I can’t decorate a house to save my life and I’m generally known to be the worst painter on planet Earth. My creativity manifests itself in words alone. 😉

      Hope you enjoyed the sneak peeks! 🙂


  1. […] of laughter and sorrow that mix together in a swirl of black and yellow each night. I worry about Sergei and wonder where he is and what he’s doing. Is he alive? Is he […]