Author: Ruta Sepetys
Genre: YA - 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?" ~See it on Goodreads
I’m a huge history geek as we know, and I’ve always found things like Hitler’s “purification” of Germany hard to wrap my mind around. Most people are somewhat familiar with that part of history nowadays but one of the less commonly known tragedies in history would be Joseph Stalin’s reign of terror, he was responsible for the deaths of millions of people. He committed a purge of sorts all throughout the Soviet Union and had millions of people executed, deported, and sent to work camps where they performed forced labor and had to try and survive in harsh weather/living conditions. I’ve read about the events that took place while Stalin was in power, but I’d never really studied it in depth. This book definitely opened my eyes to a new perspective on those things.
The story is set in 1941, Lina is the main character. She’s fifteen and one night she is forced by Soviet soldiers to leave her home, along with her younger brother and their mother. I liked Lina’s character, she is definitely a strong and courageous girl and she never lets go of the hope that somehow they will survive the horrible life that they have been forced into. I also really love Lina’s mother Elena, in a word I would describe her as incredible. She never once faltered in her dedication to her children and she continuously put them and their needs above her own. She kept them together and tried to keep their hope alive just like Lina. All of the characters in this book were extremely well developed and I was able to find a connection with each one.
I do have to say that you’ll have to be in the right mindset when you read this book. It’s far from being a light and fluffy read; there are definitely some disturbing, shocking, and graphic parts in the story. and honestly when I was reading about the execution, abuse, and horrible conditions these people were made to suffer through, I was extremely overcome with different emotions anger, grief, and mostly confusion as to how someone could ever do something like that and honestly believe that it’s right. The characters may be fictitious but the events are very real and Mrs. Sepetys doesn’t sugar coat any of them. It’s definitely something I think more people should know about, but like I said before it’s one of those books/subjects you have to prepare yourself for. Also I will say that even though it’s considered a YA book it may be a bit heavy for some younger readers.
As grim as the subject matter is, Mrs. Sepetys did a phenomenal job with the writing itself. I also liked how she included the flashbacks of Lina’s life before her family was deported as well as the light, sweet romance. It gave a little bit of a break between the sadness in the story, and I think that was definitely a welcome thing. The underlying message in this book was no matter what happens and no matter how horrible it is; there is always love and hope.
This is a book that has kept me thinking long after finishing it, and is one that won’t be forgotten by any means. I highly recommend reading it.