A Canadian family’s vacation in Croatia offers both typical road-trip zaniness and opportunities for deep reflection.
When Charlie and Max find (under the kitchen stove) the postcard from Fred inviting the family to visit them on Vrgada, they know they are in for it. Older brother Charlie narrates the high jinks in a voice that is endearingly both knowing and impressionable. He is wise in the ways of his family, but he is also ready to try to understand Croatia. Mixed in with the usual vacation travails (car sickness, border pit stops, keeping tabs on his perpetually hungry little brother, Max) are sights and incidents very specific to their destination. Some are funny—apparently just about all Croatian men are named Slobodan, including family friend Fred—but just as many are poignant. They stop in an abandoned village seeded with land mines during Yugoslavia’s brutal civil war; they encounter psychologically maimed war survivors. All of this is related in Charlie’s convincing voice—he only half understands it but is deeply moved all the same. These hints of gravity punctuate but do not puncture the holiday fun; readers like Max and Charlie who have grown up in safety will emerge thoughtful but not traumatized.
A salutary, unusual look at part of the world rarely seen in North American children’s literature, wrapped up in family fun. (Fiction. 7-10)