Thursday, April 28, 2016

Book Review: A Faraway Island

This was another situation where I checked out the second book in a series (Annika Thor's The Lily Pond) only to discover that it was a series book and I had missed the first installment. To remedy this, I sought out the first book, A Faraway Island. Although I couldn't secure this one in audio format (I enjoyed listening to the story that way for The Lily Pond), it was a quick and easy read.

In the summer of 1939, twelve-year-old Stephanie Steiner and her seven-year-old sister, Nellie, travel from their home in Vienna to a small island off the coast of Sweden. The two Jewish girls are expecting to be refugees there for only six months, until their parents can obtain the necessary paperwork for the family to flee to America. Lodging with a quietly, stern woman, and feeling beholden for every hand-me-down she is given, Stephanie tries to bear up under the weight of homesickness and anxiety for her parents.

I think my favorite part of the story is when Stephanie decides to walk across the frozen water all the way to the mainland in an attempt to get someone to hear her pleas for help for her parents. If I were a nail-biter, I would have been biting away. Unaware of the danger she is in or the path she is following, Stephie finds that she has merely circled around the island and returned to her starting point.

This coming-of-age book deals with displacement, familial bonds, the devastation and fear brought on by war, and questions of identity. I love the cover, with its beautiful photo of two sisters in braids (and cringed at the part in the book where another child accidentally-on-purpose burns the bottom of Stephie's braid, requiring her to cut her hair short). I love that the Lucia festival (something I participated in when my parents were stationed at a Scandinavian Salvation Army corps) is presented in the book. Another great option for a read-aloud if your children are wanting to learn about Jewish experiences during the war. I believe there are four books in the series, but my library doesn't have any more of the books available. Too bad, because it is a lovely story.

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