A teenage Serbian girl goes on a dangerous—and illuminating—adventure after her parents disappear from their home in this YA novel.
As the story opens, 16-year-old Sanda listens once again to her parents arguing in their native language. She feels unloved, particularly by her mother, and has only one real friend, Lauren, in her London high school. Then her big crush, Joe Mullins, asks her out, much to her surprise. Not long afterward, a menacing Serbian man visits Sanda’s parents, and it seems as if their immigration status may be in jeopardy. Later, Sanda gets upset when she observes Joe chatting with more popular girls, but she’s soon reassured that he’s serious about their forthcoming date. When she returns home, however, she discovers her parents and most of the family’s possessions gone. She does find some old photos, though, including one of her father as part of a militaristic group and one of herself as a baby. Strangely, both are inscribed with other people’s names. After Joe calls her on her cellphone, Serbian thugs arrive and try to drug her; she later wakes up unharmed in a van outside her home, and, amazingly, Joe is there with her. The pair embarks on an amazing journey, which includes travel to Serbia and encounters at a horrendous children’s prison camp. By narrative’s end, Sanda connects with new friends and relatives and embraces her transformed life—including a budding romance in France. Debut novelist Brittan has written a gripping YA novel set against the backdrop of the horrors and fallout of the 1990s Bosnian war. Sanda is a particularly appealing heroine, as she’s forced to rise above her paralyzing insecurities and take decisive actions—whether it’s planning a prison escape or admitting her feelings to Joe. Although the Bosnian back story is sometimes confusing and some of the characters fall a bit into caricature, this novel is generally believable and compelling. Best of all, there’s an enjoyable fairy-tale–like finish to Sanda’s story.
A suspenseful, engaging coming-of-age tale.