I decided to read this book after I read an interview with the author on EW. In the article, Sepetys talked about how every time she did a book signing tons of people would show up mistaking her book for another with a similar title (yeah, you know the one!). She didn't mind though because most of those people, who not surprisingly were men, stayed for the reading. She figured even mistaken publicity was still publicity. Once I read this book, I immediately had to tell everyone I knew about it. Here's a summary:
It's 1939 and the Russians are invading Lithuania and forcing its citizens into labor and prison camps. Lina is a fifteen year old Lithuanian girl living a normal, happy life. She has a little brother she loves and a mom and dad she gets along great with. Everything seems fine until Soviet officers invade her home. They're told Lina's father is already on his way to a men's prison camp. With only minutes to pack, Lina's mom takes her kids aside and tries to prepare them for the horrors of what will surely lie ahead. Then Lina and her mom and brother are put on a crowded train where they spend months traveling across the country. They don't have showers or bathrooms and it doesn't take long before sickness and lice and all other manners of atrocities settle in. Constantly having to fight for their lives, food, and doing everything they can to stay together, Lina grows up quickly and does everything she can to try to find out if her father is still alive and where he is. She's hoping if she can get word to him, he'll find a way to save them. Eventually, with most already dead, Lina and her mother and brother end up in Siberia. The conditions there are not far from those of a Nazi concentration camp and the prisoners aren't treated much differently, only given the barest of clothes and shelter and food to survive. In the end, Lina learns that there are some things no one can ever take from you. She holds on to her art, her dignity, her hope, and her desire to live and doesn't let anyone change who she is.
**This is one of those books that you have to really prepare yourself for before reading. It's not a love story, at least not one between a boy and girl. It's more of a love story of a people for their country. Many die and the conditions described will not only horrify you but will also make you cry. Lina is strong and brave and you can't help but admire how she handles all that happens to her. As the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee, Sepetys writes this story in a way no one else could--with honesty, attention to detail, and a lot of heart. Lina's story will stay with you long after you are done reading it.
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