Author: Ruta Sepetys
Series: Stand Alone
Published: Available now from Philomel Books
Source: traded for ARC
Description: 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.
I Give This ...
I must have had a great history teacher in high school because this subject is suppose to be buried and not very well known. But I remember learning about the atrocious acts against his own people that Stalin commited during World War II. All of these while an ally of of the US, Great Britain, etc. But then Russian history in the 20th century is bloody and cruel. I think anyone who thought otherwise was kidding themselves.
I held my breathe the day the NKVD came into Lina's house and took her family. It's one of those things that you know what's coming and you can't help but feel that panic and confusion that Lina and her family must have felt. These people were treated in the same manner that the Jews were by Hitler. Only the world wasn't watching in horror. They were loaded on to trains like cattle with little food and water. They died from diseases that could have been prevented or cured. They were forced thousands of miles from their homes all because Stalin had labeled them political prisoners, or accused them of crimes they had never committed. They were forced to work long and hard hours for the little amount of food they were given and nothing more. They had to beg and steal from the soldiers and guards watching them just to survive.
It was horrible reading about it. I'm surprised I didn't cry throughout this book. But, I think it's because I've learned throughout history that the human race is not always kind to it's fellow man. It's something that should not be forgotten, but sadly I'm sure history at some point will repeat itself. The way ray of light throughout this story is Lina herself. She never gives up hope. She's surprisingly resilient for a 15-year-old girl. She continues to try and send letters and pictures to her father in the hopes that one day they will be reunited. She stands her ground and doesn't lose herself or her principles in her struggle to just survive. And through it all she finds love.
I really wanted to give this 5 stars, and the story itself is a must read. But, I didn't really like the ending. I knew it wouldn't have happy one, because really how could it. But then ending gave you the hope that things were going to be better, that they were saved. And yet, you know that Lena and her family don't go home for many more years after that by the epilogue. Were things better after that fateful arrival or was it many more years of the same?