Summary and book reviews of Girl at War by Sara Novic

Girl at War

by Sara Novic

Girl at War by Sara Novic X
Girl at War by Sara Novic
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  • First Published:
    May 2015, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2016, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster

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About this Book

Book Summary

A powerful debut novel about a girl's coming of age—and how her sense of family, friendship, love, and belonging is profoundly shaped by war.

Zagreb, 1991. Ana is a carefree ten-year-old, living with her family in a small apartment in Croatia's capital. But that year, civil war breaks out across Yugoslavia, splintering Ana's idyllic childhood. Daily life is altered by food rations and air raid drills, and soccer matches are replaced by sniper fire. Neighbors grow suspicious of one another, and Ana's sense of safety starts to fray. When the war arrives at her doorstep, Ana must find her way in a dangerous world.

New York, 2001. Ana is now a college student in Manhattan. Though she's tried to move on from her past, she can't escape her memories of war - secrets she keeps even from those closest to her. Haunted by the events that forever changed her family, Ana returns to Croatia after a decade away, hoping to make peace with the place she once called home. As she faces her ghosts, she must come to terms with her country's difficult history and the events that interrupted her childhood years before.

Moving back and forth through time, Girl at War is an honest, generous, brilliantly written novel that illuminates how history shapes the individual. Sara Novic fearlessly shows the impact of war on one young girl - and its legacy on all of us. It's a precocious debut by a writer who has stared into recent history to find a story that continues to resonate today.

Excerpt
Girl at War

My best friend, Luka, and I spent the summer biking around the town square and meeting our classmates for pickup football games. We were freckled and tan and perpetually grass-stained, and now that we were down to just a few weeks of freedom before the start of school we met even earlier and stayed out later, determined not to let any vacation go to waste. I found him along our regular bike route. We cycled side by side, Luka occasionally swinging his front tire into mine so that we'd nearly crash. It was a favorite joke of his and he laughed the whole way, but I was still thinking about Petrovi?. In school we'd been taught to ignore distinguishing ethnic factors, though it was easy enough to discern someone's ancestry by their last name. Instead we were trained to regurgitate pan-Slavic slogans: "Bratstvo i Jedinstvo!" Brotherhood and Unity. But now it seemed the differences between us might be important after all. Luka's family was originally ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Novic's recreation of a child’s perspective on the horrors of war is masterful. Ana’s viewpoint is realistic and matter-of-fact, without the melodrama an omniscient narrator might inject. In fact, I can barely think of a negative thing to say about this novel. It is concise and well-structured, and it strikes a perfect balance between past and present, tragic and hopeful.   (Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).

Full Review (708 words).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This is a fine, sensitive novel, though the later scenes in Manhattan never reach the soaring heights of the sections set in wartime Croatia. Novic displays her talent, heightening the anticipation of what she will do next.

Library Journal
Novic's heartbreaking book is all the more effective for its use of personal rather than sensational detail and will be embraced by a wide range of readers.

Kirkus Reviews
Elegiac, and understandably if unrelievedly so, with a matter-of-factness about death and uprootedness. A promising start.

Booklist
Starred Review. Thanks to Novic's considerable skill, Ana's return visit to her homeland and her past is nearly as cathartic for the reader as it is for Ana.

Author Blurb Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story and Little Failure
An unforgettable portrait of how war forever changes the life of the individual, Girl at War is a remarkable debut by a writer working with deep reserves of talent, heart, and mind.

Author Blurb Robert D. Kaplan, author of Balkan Ghosts and Asia's Cauldron
Intimate, crushingly brutal, and beautiful, Girl at War is the work of someone far more mature than her years. It constitutes signal proof that even great history is insufficient to tell the story of the twentieth century in Europe: Great fiction like this book is required, too.

Author Blurb Jennifer duBois, author of Cartwheel and A Partial History of Lost Causes
With piercing clarity and devastating wit, Sara Novic traces the enduring fallout of a childhood interrupted by conflict. Girl at War is a deeply affecting meditation on identity and memory, loss and survival, and what it means to feel at home in the world.

Author Blurb Jonathan Dee, author of the Pulitzer Prize finalist The Privileges and A Thousand Pardons
Sentence after perfectly weighted sentence lands with the sound of a gavel. The first fifty pages might be the best fifty pages you read this year.

Author Blurb Victor LaValle, author of The Devil in Silver
Sara Novic isn't here to play games. Her debut novel, Girl at War, serves as the announcement of an audacious talent. Great war stories are engaging and rough and honest, and Novic's book is certainly all three.

Reader Reviews

Debbie

couldn't put it down
This book is both heartbreaking and hope-filled. I could not put it down, I read it within like 5 days. I was gripped from the get go, easy to read and not too aggressive in the war lingo. very very good book.

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Beyond the Book

Child Soldiers in the Yugoslavian Civil War

Dubrovnik Wartime StradunThe Civil War that led to the breakup of Yugoslavia consisted of a number of separate but related ethnic conflicts spanning the period 1991 to 2001. Sara Novic's debut novel, Girl at War, zeroes in on the Croatian War of Independence, which lasted from 1991 to 1995.

The United Nations estimates that 3,000 to 4,000 child soldiers (some as young as 10) took part in the fighting, most of them in Bosnia and Croatia, though other sources put the numbers at more like 10,000. The Croatian Ministry of Defence has denied that they ever actively recruited children. A UNICEF statement insists that "children under 18 years were not obliged to participate in military forces, very few of them joined the military forces as volunteers, and they were ...

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