Girl at War is the story of a young girl whose family gets trapped in the wars in former Yugoslavia. Ana is Croatian and has spent her first year in relatively carefree. Living in Zagreb, spending summers at the coast. This carefreeness ends abruptly when Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia decide that nationalism is more important than peaceful living. We all know how that ended. Ana’s story makes it all a tad more personal. I’ll not reveal all that happens to Ana, suffice to say that she and her sister Rahela end up being adopted by an American couple. When is asked to tell her story to the United Nations, she decides that the time has come to return to Croatia. She wants to find out about family and friends. Novic does not hesitate to describe in detail the dreadful things that happened in the war. Being told by a ten year old makes the impact of some of these things even greater. Novic’s choice to switch in time by having young Ana and twenty something Ana tell her story makes that war and living in peace in the States alternate effectively. The almost unbearable events in Croatia become slightly more bearable knowing that Ana and Rahela have ended up well.
Girl at War convinces because of the structure of the novel, which causes you to become curious of the outcome. Alternating in time and age works effectively. Some of the events and relationships slightly border on the cliché, which might be caused by Girl at War being Novics first novel. I do wonder whether Novics next novel, not embroidering on a subject that is clearly close to her own heritage and heart, will be as convincing. Her first novel definitely does.