Girl At War starts off with Ana Juric as a carefree ten-year-old living in Zagreb, Croatia in 1991. Running to the store to pick up cigarettes for her godfather, Petar, has never been an issue until she enters the store and the clerk asks if she wants Serbian or Croatian. That simple question is the beginning of the Yugoslavian Civil War.
The book is told in several parts. The beginning is narrated by Ana as a child as things begin to unravel in her country. Her best friend Luka and her start off as typical children, going to school, riding bikes and hanging out with friends. It all changes when tragedy strikes her city and her family has to make difficult decisions for her and her younger sister Rahela.
Then we flash forward to Ana in New York as a college student who clearly suffers from PTSD. I can’t really go into why she ends up there without giving too much away but this is the section that (SORRY) started to lose my interest. Maybe I was distracted but I didn’t feel anything for/from Ana during this time and my reading lost momentum. Ana then returns to Serbia to find out what happened to Petar and Luka and maybe have some closure. While in Serbia the story flashes back to a dangerous time as a child and again I can’t go into detail without spoiling it.
I read somewhere that Novic used a stylistic approach with a detached narrative. After I read that, it made more sense as to why I felt nothing for Ana while reading. Yes, my stomach was in knots at the beginning and with the ordeal her family went through in Zagreb (readers will know which parts I’m talking about). But I also felt a disconnect several times throughout and couldn’t put my finger on it until I read that review comment. Maybe the author used the detached narrative to emphasize the PTSD and what war does to many people and in this book, to children.
“I felt suspended between living and dead.”
My circle of book bloggers loved this book especially and I can see why. It’s written beautifully and opens up a time in history that many in the States glossed over. It was 1998 when I made a friend in a new highschool that I transferred to and she was from Yugoslavia. Without disclosing her personal information, I didn’t know much about what was going on in her homeland. I was a teenager and in my head most of the time dealing with my own stresses. She left a few years later, returning to her homeland, now Serbia, and I thought about her constantly while reading this book. I learned so much about that time, the people and the war from this book that can also be read by young adults. It does have some heavy elements dealing with war, but the younger narration made me think of other teens able to identify with parts of Ana’s story.