Haley Tanner’s Book Vaclav & Lena Novel Reviews

The novel story: Vaclav and Lena seem destined for each other. They meet as children in an ESL class in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Vaclav is precocious and verbal. Lena, struggling with English, takes comfort in the safety of his adoration, his noisy, loving home, and the care of Rasia, his big-hearted mother. Vaclav imagines their story unfolding like a fairy tale, or the perfect illusion, but among the many truths to be discovered in Haley Tanner’s wondrous debut is that happily ever after is never a foregone conclusion.

One day, Lena does not show up for school. She has disappeared from Vaclav and his family’s lives as if by a cruel magic trick. For the next seven years, Vaclav says goodnight to Lena without fail, wondering if she is doing the same somewhere. On the eve of Lena’s seventeenth birthday he finds out.

Haley Tanner has the originality and verve of a born storyteller, and the boldness to imagine a world in which love can overcome the most difficult circumstances. In Vaclav & Lena she has created two unforgettable young protagonists who evoke the joy, the confusion, and the passion of having a profound, everlasting connection with someone else.


“Wonderful and wrenching . . . Vibrant characters, believable romance and dark undertones make for a moving tale. The book’s contrast between childhood fantasy and the grim world outside tamps down the cutesiness.  It helps that Ms. Tanner is such a strong storyteller, and her distinctive voice—winsome without being dopey—engulfs you immediately. “New York Times

“From the moment they meet, Vaclav and Lena make magic together. . . . Through all the twists and turns of the book, the most enduring theme of the novel is love.” —NPR

“Tanner’s charming story unfolds as gracefully as a flower. …Tanner’s revelations about Lena’s travails and the sweetness of the children’s bond make this a debut to savor.” People

“Funny, warm and smart—and with a peppery twist that suggests truth and love don’t always sit easily…magical.” —Financial Times

“Tanner’s novel is cute and challenging, playful and powerful, dripping with a sense of charm that will sweep you off your feet.” —matchbook

“Tanner’s debut novel is a wistful, honest story of friendship and first love.” —BookPage

“I finished Vaclav & Lena last night and I cannot recommend it highly enough—my fave debut novel of the year so far.” Bethanne Patrick, Book Maven Media

“The magic Tanner makes is as dazzling as it is profound.” —Booklist (STARRED review)

“The author captures the subculture of the Russian émigré subculture in New York with verve and realism…A terrific, enlightened debut.” —Kirkus Reviews (STARRED review)

“[A] romantic and moving debut.…[Readers will] be more than taken by the one-of-a-kind relationship between two magnificent characters.” —Publishers Weekly

“Tanner’s captivating debut novel is a love story of unusual innocence and intensity. Her prose is understated but powerful and also quite funny. A suspenseful, literary work that is hard to put down… Highly recommended.” —Library Journal

“In this charming and wonderfully engaging tale, the reader is swept into the beautifully rendered landscape of the immigrant childhood experience.  Tanner has created a world peopled with characters of great poignancy and they will linger in the mind—and heart—long after the book is put down.” Elizabeth Strout, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Olive Kitteridge

“Haley Tanner’s assured narrative voice finds new ways to describe emotion and character, stunning the reader again and again with small shocks of awareness…  sad, funny, true, and shot through with grace.”  Judy Blundell, National Book Award–winning author of What I Saw and How I Lied

Vaclav & Lena is a wonderful achievement, generous, playful, moving, and refreshing. It was the voice that first captivated me here, a voice that allows Haley Tanner to say anything at all, and to say it truly.”Kevin Brockmeier, author of The View from the Seventh Layer and The Brief History of the Dead

The author of Vaclav & Lena:

Haley Tanner, who is at work on her second novel.  She lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.