“Was it harder to die, or harder to be the one who survived?”
Blurb (Goodreads)- It’s 1941 and fifteen-year-old artist Lina Vilkas is on Stalin’s extermination list. Deported to a prison camp in Siberia, Lina fights for her life, fearless, risking everything to save her family. It’s a long and harrowing journey and it is only their incredible strength, love, and hope that pull Lina and her family through each day. But will love be enough to keep them alive?
Thoughts- It’s been a long time since I have felt this emotionally attached to characters, and had a book really affect me. This is so powerful because of the brutal honesty that it shows. Lina’s journey is harrowing and heart-breaking, but I loved every minute of it.
Lina’s connection to art makes this book special because she’s just a young girl who is worrying about studying her art and the next minute she’s worried if her and her family can survive the next day. Sepetys has this really gorgeous and simplistic writing style that brings this to life. It also flows extremely well, I read this entire book in about 4 hours flat, which shows how much I was digging her writing.
Obviously one of the main themes throughout the book is family, and the sense of family in this is portrayed so well. Elena (Lina’s mother) has already been separated from her husband and tries everything in her power to not get separated from them. Lina’s younger brother is only ten years old so it’s so heart wrenching to see this young boy go through so much trauma. What I really enjoyed though is that the familiar type bonds didn’t extend to just Lina’s immediate family, but all of the captured Lithuanians and the journey with her. The connection with other children, and even the adults feels so real, which is wonderful to read.
The characters are all so complex and surprised me several times with their actions. When placed in a situation like Lina was in, people definitely change and Sepetys achieved that well through several of her characters like Lina herself, the old bald man, and Andrius. I love Andrius because his character really developed throughout the stories as he came to care for all of the Vilkas family.
I honestly really enjoyed the bit of romance present- although it could be a hit or miss for others. It showed how even when you feel as if life has hit rock bottom, there will always be something to hold onto. Andrius becomes Lina’s anchor, especially in Siberia and it was all very emotional.
Overall, I highly, highly, recommend this book because it has so many powerful messages inside and something that can truly touch you. I found it a very quick, yet emotional read but it’s something that I feel like everyone should experience at least once.