Welcome to the world of ethnic warfare, from the dinner table to the battle lines, full of haunted landscapes and social relationships—and you are a young girl.
The story involves a girl, the narrator, who is forced to flee her village as civil war ravages her unnamed country, one of those endlessly grinding tank wars, fueled by animosities stretching back 600 years but as fresh as today’s daisies in the combatants’ noses. Her father, a pastry chef, has joined his neighbors: “He had to go and help defend one side against the other even though he had friends who were on the other side.” The language is smart, innocent and full of surprising—but age-fitting—turns of phrase. The girl is sent to live with her estranged mother, across the border. On her way there, much on foot, often through dark forest, she meets a cast of characters who mirror all the bickering that’s tearing the country apart. The text makes all her emotions palpable (“My stomach was full of homesickness. There was no room for anything else”), fear above all, but it never overwhelms her, instead releasing sudden survival instincts that get her through.
A brilliant, eerily engrossing evocation of war as it brushes up against youth—a harsh slice of the world during a mean piece of history. (Fiction. 9 & up)