When Lithuania became a part of Stalin’s reign of terror at the beginning of World War II, Lina’s world began to slowly unravel. When she is thrown into a truck with her mother and brother, she has no idea where they are being taken or why they have to leave home at all. Her 15 years of life didn’t prepare her for the horror of life under the thumb of Russian soldiers.
I’ve read a lot of stories about young adults during the Second World War, many stories of Jewish youth who had to survive concentration camps or work camps and stories of those who helped. Like all other victims of the atrocities of this period of time, Lina and her family were just citizens. Just people. Stalin decided they were a threat, so he had them put in train cars at gunpoint and sent them away.
This is a heartbreaking story. It’s carefully crafted, with flashbacks that flesh out Lina’s life in Lithuania and help us understand how much she’s lost. It’s a story of survival and keeping hope even during the darkest hours of oppression. Her mother is an exemplary character; I hope I would have as much strength and empathy in that situation. It’s not an easy tale to read, but I can’t think of anything I’d really change. I’d have liked the “love” storyline to be developed a tiny bit more, but honestly, Sepetys tells a really realistic story. It would be awesome if we could all fall in love and have everything work out perfectly, but sometimes, life just does not work out that way. I appreciated how true her young adult voice was — I believed in Lina. Her thoughts felt very real.
Make sure to read the author’s note when you’re finished with this moving story; it made me appreciate the ending even more.
Rated: Moderate. Lina is briefly sexually assaulted, there is a lot of violence, and one woman prostitutes herself.