A version of this review originally appeared in Horn Book:
Summer, 1942. Leningrad is entering its second year under siege with all supply routes in and out of the city blocked by Nazi forces. Glue mixed with dirt from a burnt down sugar factory is being sold on the black market as candy. Bread rations from the Soviet government have been reduced again and come from loaves that are more sawdust than flour.
Liza has learned from her mother to do whatever it takes to survive. She’s even hidden her mother’s death from authorities–burying the body herself–so that Liza can keep using her precious ration cards. With rumors of cannibals haunting the streets after curfew and the secret police enforcing order with strict brutality everyone in the city is desperate.
When Liza’s best friend Aka suggests trading “entertainment” for food from the secret police, Liza knows it’s a mistake. Her mother always said there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed. But after Aka disappears Liza will do anything to find her even if she has to confront the ugly truths of the siege and the cost of survival firsthand in The Hunger Between Us (2022) by Marina Scott.
The Hunger Between Us is Scott’s debut novel. All characters are cued as white (and Russian, of course).
Short, fast-paced chapters drive this novel as Liza scrambles to survive and searches for Aka. In a city rife with desperation, questions of morality exist alongside survival as Liza must decide what she is willing to trade both for information about Aka and for food.
With a body already ravaged by symptoms of starvation, Liza becomes an unreliable narrator as she tries to cut through the fog of hunger and fatigue. With no easy paths forward, much of this suspenseful story is mired in the daily brutality of the siege as Liza tries to find her own moral compass and cling to hope where she can.
The Hunger Between Us operates in moral grey areas as Liza and everyone she meets along the way confront the fact that the line between “good” and “bad” becomes increasingly malleable as desperation climbs; an excellent (fictional) counterpoint to MT Anderson’s thoroughly researched Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad.