Author: Ruta Sepetys
Publisher: Philomel Books
Genre: Historical Fiction
It's 1941 and fifteen-year-old artist Lina Vilkas is on Stalin's extermination list. Deported to a prison camp in Siberia, Lina fights for her life, fearless, risking everything to save her family. It's a long and harrowing journey and it is only their incredible strength, love, and hope that pull Lina and her family through each day. But will love be enough to keep them alive?
Me: A beautiful re-reading experience that kept me up until 12:30.
The Ups: Let's clarify: Lina is going to a prison camp in the Soviet Union, aka being deported by STALIN, not Hitler. She is NOT a Jew in Germany. Also this is WWII, not WWI. This novel has led to many confused discussions as some people interpreted the time period a little differently, but I think that illustrates the point I am about to make beautifully (that was a really weird sentence).
Not many people know about the prison camps and the persecution of various ethnic groups of people in the Soviet Union during and after WWII due to Josef Stalin. We all know about Hitler's concentration camps, but this story is very rarely told. I thank Ruta Sepetys for giving me and so many other readers a little more insight into the horrors that took place during this time.
Onto the actual book now: It is a masterpiece of words. The writing and tone are so soothing, eloquent, and calm that it makes the overwhelming pain, death, and chaos bearable for the reader. In fact, it makes the book smooth to read and describes the terrors of the camp in vivid artistry.
The characters are what build this novel. Lina is a wonderful heroine, scared, quick to rush to conclusions, and naive but also brave, strong-minded, and determined. She is never boisterous or arrogant, yet never loses hope and fights for her life and her family. Her brother, Jonas, is only about eleven yet is the man of the family, bringing back extra food for the women. Andrius, a boy she meets at camp, is angry and dark, but courageous and fierce. The other characters that joined Lina through her journey all left an imprint on her heart, and on mine too.
My favorite character was Lina's mother. She was the epitome of strength, standing by everyone else when they needed help. She put others first no matter what and had a kind word to say to everyone, even if all she got back was a glare. Her solid presence was what got not only Lina and Jonas, but all of the people in the camp through every day. I think what was so beautiful about these characters was they all were so determined and had a spark in them that wouldn't die out, wouldn't give in.
I cannot write a review about this book without including Kretsky. He was neither good nor bad, a guard who abused the prisoners but also helped them secretly. He was the perfect "gray"character. The title made sense.
The Downs: The only thing I didn't enjoy as much was the ending. It was very brisk and abrupt with no real resolution and BAM- epilogue. I wish there had been closure to the pain and death and sadness, I feel like my mind was kind of rushed and confused.
Rating: 5 kisses!