Recommended Audience: Middle school to adult
I read this book back in February of 2013. For some reason, I never got around to reviewing it until today. This is an outstanding historical fiction book that covers a topic that is often missing in literature and history classrooms in American education.
Much young adult historical fiction from World War II is focused on America, Hitler, and the Holocaust. All pertinent and important topics, but I was really excited to see a story that focus on the atrocities committed by Stalin and the Russians. For whatever reason, the story of the evils of communism and the Soviets is rarely told to young adults.
The story is at times heartbreaking as the evil acts of the Russian military officers remind the reader of the evils of German military officers during WWII. The Lithuanians were forcibly removed from their homes, herded into rail cars with little food or water, and sent thousands of miles to the Siberian prison camps. Along the way the reader is shown the worst of human nature as the Lithuanians are treated like human chattel by the Soviet military.
This is Septys first novel to be published. She wrote the book because her grandfather was a Lithuanian military officer. Many of his family was deported and imprisoned. This is an outstanding first attempt for this author. I loved the characters, and thought Sepetys did an excellent job with the first-person voice of Lina.
The novel focuses more on the human element and experiences of the Lithuanians. There is not an extensive amount of background on Stalin, the Russians, and communism in the book. Part of me wishes there was a little more on the topic, but I do think that the book does a great job of sparking a young adult’s interest in this part of the story of WWII. We need more books in young adult literature that tells this story. Throughout American history, and especially in post-secondary education, we have seen so many dupes that buy the nonsense that communism is benign and is and always was nothing to worry about.