cover image My Palace of Leaves in Sarajevo

My Palace of Leaves in Sarajevo

Marybeth Lorbiecki. Dial Books, $14.99 (48pp) ISBN 978-0-8037-2033-6

Lorbiecki (Just One Flick of a Finger) personalizes the experience of war in this epistolary novel. The pen pals, 10-year-old Nadja, a native of Sarajevo, and her American cousin Alex are cast as typical preteens who enjoy camping, music, skiing and movies; through their four-year correspondence, they express their hopes, fears and courage. The tone of Nadja's messages, at first optimistic and chatty--and delivered in broken English--changes abruptly when her city is invaded by soldiers (""I feel like everything squeezed in me. I do not know when all is to come out""). The shock she conveys lessens over the next few months as she writes about bombings, food shortages and the deaths of friends with a kind of weariness (""I am sorry I did not write to you. My heart was too sick. Tired of bad things. Gas line exploded. Dini was hurt. He has to have artificial legs""). Deeply affected by his cousin's plight, Alex tries to encourage Nadja by sending small gifts and the reassurance that his family is doing all they can to bring her to safety. Tauss's full-page color illustrations, inspired by war zone photographs, add an extra dimension to the drama. An informative introduction, conclusion and glossary of terms help clarify Nadja's situation. Ages 8-12. (May) FYI: A portion of the proceeds from the book will be donated to Bosnian relief efforts.