Girl at War by Sara Novic
Published by Little, Brown
12th May 2015
Growing up in Zagreb in the summer of 1991, 10-year-old Ana Juric is a carefree tomboy; she runs the streets with her best friend, Luka, helps take care of her baby sister, Rahela, and idolizes her father. But when civil war breaks out across Yugoslavia, football games and school lessons are supplanted by sniper fire and air raid drills.
The brutal ethnic cleansing of Croats and Bosnians tragically changes Ana's life, and she is lost to a world of genocide and child soldiers; a daring escape plan to America becomes her only chance for survival. Ten years later she returns to Croatia, a young woman struggling to belong to either country, forced to confront the trauma of her past and rediscover the place that was once her home.
Reading Girl at War reminded me in part of A Brighter Fear by Kerry Drewery. Ana is growing up in Zagreb, carefree and happy as any 10 year old should be. Then civil war tears the country apart and Ana witnesses things no child should ever see. Her sister Rahela has already been sent to America and Ana flees the country she knows and loves to join her on the other side of the world.
Growing up as an American is a different lifestyle for Ana and her sister. Their friends know nothing of their background, or past experiences, but for Ana, she is at heart a Yugoslavian. As she discloses who she really is to her boyfriend, it occurs to Ana that she can never truly come to terms with what occurred unless she returns home.
The country that she remembers is not the one she left behind but thankfully, Luka, her best friend, still remains. With him by her side, she travels around the country reliving those key moments and trying to find some sense in the things that happened, and for a way to end the nightmares that disrupt her sleep.
Girl at War is an easy read and I did enjoy it, though some parts are indeed harrowing. For those of us in the west, it is easy to gloss over these events but these are stories that need to be told. Sara Novic is probably a name to watch out for.