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.
This book takes place during a time of history that isn’t widely written about. Before I read this novel, I wasn’t really educated about Stalin’s atrocities and I didn’t know about the terrible conditions that Lithuanian people had to live in or about how some of them were deported to work camps at the Arctic circle.
I thought this novel was completely eye-opening. Through the story of Lina and her family, I learned so much. It reminded me a lot of Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein. In both novels, the main characters live in deplorable conditions and struggle to survive. Both books made me so angry and horrified that these events are a part of our history.
I loved the characters of Lina, her mother, and her brother Jonas. They were the best kind of family. They kept their hope alive and loved each other very deeply. They were always there for each other and their strong bond was really rewarding to read about. Ruta Sepetys also created really well-developed supporting characters. She even managed to make me feel pity for for some people I ordinarily wouldn’t have.
The only place this book really fell short for me was with the writing. There isn’t anything wrong with the writing style, but it was very simplistic. A novel like this could have been very moving and powerful, but it wasn’t. The writing was never poetic or beautiful and I think it was the reason why I didn’t fully connect with the book. I went into this novel fully expecting to cry (like I did with Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire), but I never did.
This book is still a really well-researched, heartbreaking account of the Lithuanian annexation. It’s a really important novel, and I’m really glad I got a chance to learn more about this period of history. I think anyone interested in this era would enjoy the book.