“Was it harder to die, or harder to be the one who survived?”
Synopsis from Goodreads: Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they’ve known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin’s orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.
Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously–and at great risk–documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives.
Feelings: I don’t know how Ruta Sepetys does it, but she writes the most beautiful characters. I’ve now read all 3 of her books, and she’s so consistently on point.
This is a classic page-turner. I wanted more and more. I thought about it, even when I wasn’t reading it, wondering how my favorite characters were holding up without me. I love this book because it changed my mind narrative on WWII. I no longer see WWII only as a time with concentration camps, where Jews and outcasts were horribly treated and killed. This was also a time when small nations lost their identity, just for being in the way. They were removed from their homes and shipped off to do meaningless work, treated like animals. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not looking down at the narrative time has written; I’m not saying it wasn’t significant – I’m just saying we have to remember everyone that suffered. These people – Estonians, Lithuanians, Latvians – they deserve their part of history, too.
Issues: Part of me wishes that we’d gotten more between the last chapter and the epilogue. I had some questions that I still wanted answered, but at the same time I was satisfied. Does that even make sense? I was invested in these characters and I wanted more!
Characters: Because I recently read Salt to the Sea, I couldn’t help but compare Joana, from that novel, to Lina from this one. I knew going into this book that it was about Joana’s cousin, which was really intriguing. Joana may be one of my favorite characters ever written, but Lina was awesome, too. Like her cousin, she’s strong and determined, but I think she grew a lot more over the course of her story than Joana did. Lina struggled with helping others and trusting people, but by the end of the story she had grown into a mature young woman, tackling the world.
Genre: If you’re new here, you may not know how much I love historical fiction. So, let me fill you in: I LOVE historical fiction. One thing I love about Sepetys’s other WWII novel is the way she includes historical facts in her author’s note. She’s so invested in telling these truths and making sure the world knows about the forgotten Baltic countries that suffered under Hitler and Stalin. I really respect that.
Final thoughts: In the end, I thought this story was beautiful and powerful. It wasn’t haunting, like some WWII stories, but it did stay with me, emotionally. I shed some tears near the end and read the entire second half of the book in one sitting. Those are the markings of a great novel, in my opinion.
Pick this up if you liked:
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Goodreads rating: 4.32/5
Amazon.com rating: 4.7/5
My rating: 4.75/5
Happy reading! – Caitlyn