Historical Fiction, New Adult/Adult

Girl at War by Sara Nović

Pages: 320

Publisher: Random House

Release Date: May 12, 2015

Genre(s): Historical Fiction

Format: Paperback

Goodreads Synopsis

“Zagreb, summer of 1991. Ten-year-old Ana Jurić is a carefree tomboy who runs the streets of Croatia’s capital with her best friend, Luka, takes care of her baby sister, Rahela, and idolizes her father. But as civil war breaks out across Yugoslavia, soccer games and school lessons are supplanted by sniper fire and air raid drills. When tragedy suddenly strikes, Ana is lost to a world of guerilla warfare and child soldiers; a daring escape plan to America becomes her only chance for survival.

Ten years later Ana is a college student in New York. She’s been hiding her past from her boyfriend, her friends, and most especially herself. Haunted by the events that forever changed her family, she returns alone to Croatia, where she must rediscover the place that was once her home and search for the ghosts of those she’s lost.”

What Did I Think?

I’ll be the first to admit that Girl at War is not a book I would have gone to the bookstore and picked up to read for fun, and that honestly would have been such a shame because it truly was a  remarkable novel. I am so thankful that I got the opportunity to experience the brilliance of Girl at War for a good month as I crafted my final Senior Seminar research paper this past semester!

The overall concept and structure of the novel was very well organized and drew me in from the start. The novel is told in alternating story lines – Ana Jurić at ten years old, living in Croatia when then the Balkan Wars of the 1990s break out, and then Ana ten years later, attending college in the United States. In the early childhood chapters, the reader sees first-hand that the trauma she experiences is directly connected to the outbreak of the wars. I found these to be some of the most moving sections of the novel because though Nović was talking about so many tragic experiences, she did so with this very neutral, almost disconnected voice that likely mimicked the psychological “voices” of real people who underwent experiences similar to Ana’s. On the flipside, seeing the long-term effects of trauma and the way Ana manages to cope without finding closure as a child in her twenties allowed me to sympathize more with the struggles survivors (both veterans and civilians alike) of war have to contend with. Though I think most readers know that PTSD is certainly real and hits those with this condition hard, Nović uses heartbreakingly beautiful descriptions of Ana’s experiences to force the reader into a deeper understanding of how posttraumatic stress impacts the daily life of those who are working through their traumas. The moments Nović chose to switch perspectives were spot on, as they mirrored how a victim’s traumatic memories would typically resurface – something serves as a trigger, and memories spring to the forefront of their minds, sometimes in full detail and other times, just little breadcrumbs of remembrances come back.

Going into Girl at War, I didn’t know a single thing about the Balkan Wars, as embarrassing as it is to admit. In some ways, I’m glad I was so clueless. Not only could I just enjoy the novel for what it had to offer from a literary standpoint, but I also gained a lot of knowledge about the effects of these wars on citizens of Yugoslavia from a writer who uses her talent as a way to share the stories of her family and friends that lived through these conflicts. Nović’s writing style and structuring of the novel perfectly suited her subject, and I was hooked from the opening line. Girl at War is sure to take you on quite the educational adventure, with its hard-hitting subject matter, gripping descriptions of Ana’s traumatic childhood, and watching her emotional journey as she begins to heal from the ghosts that haunt her, but it’s totally worth the ride and more.

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

The subject matter of Girl at War is so important that I highly recommend everyone give it a read!

I would also venture to say that lovers of historical fiction would find Girl at War particularly interesting.

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