cover image Cardboard City

Cardboard City

Katarina Jovanovic. Tradewind, $12.95 paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-99059-810-4

Set in Belgrade, Serbia circa 2006–2009, this slender novel by Jovanovic (The Blue Vase) highlights the displacement and oppression of Romani peoples as experienced by two teens living in an improvised Romani settlement of cardboard dwellings. Nikola, a gifted aspiring trumpeter, and his resourceful older sister Saida live with their fortune-teller grandmother Baba and the twin babies she cares for in Cardboard City, beneath the Gazela Bridge in the heart of Belgrade. After being abandoned early in their lives by their teenage parents, the siblings don’t know their true ages, haven’t learned to read or write, and spend their days struggling to survive by fetching water, picking pockets, and scrounging for food. Saida soon runs away seeking a more comfortable life, while Nikola’s musical talent garners attention and, eventually, an invitation to a prestigious brass festival in Gucˆa. It’s there that the siblings reunite in the home of a generous couple. Convenient plotting and thinly developed characters diminish illuminating messaging surrounding the history and hardships of Romani people in Serbia. Jovanovic nevertheless presents an admirable if ambitious tale about two teens yearning for more and journeying toward a hopeful future. Includes recipes and a historical note. Ages 12–up. (Aug.)