I was unsure about Girl at War by Sara Novic. At some points, I couldn’t put the book down. I was so engrossed in the story and in the life of the main character, Ana. Yet some parts of the book left me feeling ‘meh,’ especially the ending. I’m not sure where I wanted this book to go, so I suppose I just went along for the ride.
Novic writes about a woman who grew up during a civil war and the story of how her country became Croatia and how she became an America. I think that these are stories of war we need to hear more often. A previous boyfriend’s family had a similar experience of fleeing their Eastern-European country and I couldn’t believe that he lived through those experiences. Through Ana, Novic tells the story of a young girl who sees her family, city, friends, and neighbourhood torn apart by racism and hate.
In high school, I remember that Serbs and Croats would often have fights after school. I didn’t understand the fights (because in my high school there were lots of fights), but I also didn’t stop to ask my classmates or my parents why they were fighting. I had no understanding of genocide and the terror of war. I had no way of comprehending that level of generations of hatred and fear.
So again, I believe that books about teen and child experiences are so important because we get a deeper understanding of the legacy of civil war. In the novel, Ana address the UN as a child soldier, yet she doesn’t see herself as a soldier. She sees herself as doing what needed to be done and not doubting her ability to be helpful in conflict. That is devastating that there are enough children being drawn into wars that we have UN special summits about child soldiers. Other European world wars were men fighting men. Civil wars are a completely different matter.
So, thank you to Sara Novic for bringing us this important story. But that being said, I still wasn’t sold on this book. I’m not the only one who wasn’t a fan of the writing style:
But then, if the writing were stronger and less inclined to clunky phrasing, such as “Not wanting to wake Brian, I compelled myself to stillness for a minute or two, tried to match the rise and fall of my chest with his” or “I snuck a peek down at the Converse high-tops I’d pulled on in a last-minute fit of groggy defiance”, one might not be so demanding of clarity. (Eileen Battersby)
I feel that this book is a good starting point for people curious about the civil wars in the 1990s, yet it’s not a book I would recommend to friends to read. It was just ok.