You all probably know by now that I love WWII novels, even though at this point, I'm finding myself getting more and more selective. Just like mystery/thrillers, after awhile they all start to sound the same, and takes something really special to make them memorable.
I'd been hearing about this particular title for awhile now, making it's rounds when it first was published in March of this year. I even had the book sitting on my shelves. But what ultimately motivated me to read it was the audio version (shocker, I know). Thanks to Ti, I learned that I could load Overdrive on my iPhone, and just pluck audios at will from my library website, so I went nuts. (I could never figure out how to get Overdrive titles on my iPod Classic.) As always, if I want to get something read quickly, I turn to audio.
Synopsis: Lina is a typical 15 year-old living in Lithuania in 1941. She has friends, she is annoyed with her little brother, she has a crush on a boy, and she loves to draw. All of that is stolen from her one day, however, when her family is torn from their home by Russian soldiers, for crimes which Lina does not understand. Lina, her mother, and little brother are thrown on to a train headed for a Siberian work camp. Her father is sent elsewhere.
While in captivity, Lina is befriended by a young man for whom she begins to have feelings, and who encourages Lina to continue to draw everything she sees - at great risk. This tiny shred of pleasure is not enough to offset the horrors Lina witnesses...disease, starvation, murder, and dwindling hope they will ever experience freedom again.
My thoughts: In some ways, this story is identical to hundreds of stories that were born from WWII...a teenage girl suffering with her family at the hands of a murderous dictator's reign of terror. In other ways, the viewpoint of someone terrorized by the Soviets instead of the Germans, someone from Lithuania, someone sent to Siberia, is something a little new. These twists made the book completely worth reading for me.
The characters are well-drawn, generally likable and heroic in their small ways. Their circumstances are tragic and extremely harsh, considering this is a YA novel. There is no sugar-coating. Babies die, fathers die, mothers die. Soviet soldiers are brutal. But at the same time, the victims also help each other to survive malnutrition, frigid winter conditions, and fight the desire to give up. The rare Soviet soldier shows an act of kindness. There was beauty amidst the horror.
Because Sepetys is the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee, she has used real stories and real details to bring this story into sharp focus. Carrying around a good luck rock. Finding a dead owl and smuggling it home for food. These little touches were a direct reflection, and a tribute, to the experiences of those who lived through this hell.
A word about the audio production: The narrator for this audio production was Emily Kline, a new voice for me. She does not appear to have much experience with fictional narration - most of her experience is with non-fiction. Her vocalization for younger children was very high pitched, and actually made me wince because I felt it was piercing into my brain. This was a distraction for the first half of the book, but I did get used to it.
I did have one issue with the flow of the story, because I was listening to audio. Throughout the story, as Lina is enduring a particular horror, she takes little trips back in her mind to an instance in her earlier life. A conversation with her father, or her cousin, or mother. In the book, these regressions were indicated by italics. But in the audio, there was no pause or other sign that this flashback was occurring. It was highly confusing. Because of these reasons, I would recommend reading the book in print.
Despite my complaints about the audio, however, this is a beautiful book that I would highly recommend.
4.5 out of 5 stars