cover image Girl at War

Girl at War

Sara Novic. Random, $26 (336p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9634-0

Novic's debut novel centers on the civil war in Croatia between Croats and Serbs in the 1990s. We first meet her protagonist, Ana, as an ordinary, happy girl, living with her parents and baby sister in a small apartment and riding bikes with her friend Luka through the city. Soon enough, however, people begin to disappear, bombs begin to fall, and the children are plotting their bike routes around traumatized refugees and homemade explosives. The climax of the book comes early, when Ana’s family takes a fateful journey to Sarajevo to bring Ana’s little sister, Rahela, who is suffering from kidney failure, into the hands of an organization that will send her to the United States for treatment. The story swings back and forth from past to present, tracking young Ana’s survival in a war zone that defies comprehension. Dreamy sequences of her time in a safe house reloading guns and of desperate escapes with friends and strangers alike alternate with more recent scenes of Ana in New York City, sleepwalking through her existence in a place she does not feel she really belongs. This is a fine, sensitive novel, though the later scenes in Manhattan never reach the soaring heights of the sections set in wartime Croatia. Novic displays her talent, heightening the anticipation of what she will do next. [em](May) [/em]