Debut author Annemarie O’Brien has created a wonderful middle grade novel set in Imperial Russia. The book tells the story of Lara, a fourteen-year-old girl who dreams of following in her father’s footsteps to become the next kennel steward for Count Vorontsov. Lara can think of nothing else but caring for the beloved borzoi dogs, used for hunting wolves, and she hopes to someday breed dogs for the Tsar. Everyone on the Count’s estate acknowledges that Lara has a special connection to the borzoi and is a natural with the dogs. She cares for them when they are injured, helps prepare them for going on a hunt, and helps when it is time for them to give birth. Lara is devastated when her father decides to make her new baby brother the future kennel steward instead of her, and feels like her lifelong dreams are crushed. She must find a way to prove to her father that she is worthy of the opportunity to work with the borzoi.
Lara’s Gift is a novel about learning to trust your instincts and not giving up on your dreams. Lara’s special relationship with her favorite dog, Zar, is very touching. The author’s love of the borzoi and her knowledge of Russia come across on every page. The book is fast-paced, full of action, and will definitely keep the attention of young readers. The Author’s Note is fantastic and gives a great deal of extra detail and information about the dogs and this time in Russian history. I would highly recommend this book to children as well as adults.