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Bailey’s 2016 Short List Review: Girl at War Sara Nović


Two joint reviews in a row! Book Worm and I are on a roll. Were we more aligned on this book? Keep reading to find out.

Girl at War by Sara Nović
Published in: 2015
Literary Awards: Baileys Shortlist 2016
Reviewed by: Book Worm  and/or Jen
Find it here: Girl at War

This ARC was provided by Little Brown Book Group UK (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis from Goodreads: Zagreb, summer of 1991. Ten-year-old Ana Jurić is a carefree tomboy who runs the streets of Croatia’s capital with her best friend, Luka, takes care of her baby sister, Rahela, and idolizes her father. But as civil war breaks out across Yugoslavia, soccer games and school lessons are supplanted by sniper fire and air raid drills. When tragedy suddenly strikes, Ana is lost to a world of guerilla warfare and child soldiers; a daring escape plan to America becomes her only chance for survival.

Ten years later Ana is a college student in New York. She’s been hiding her past from her boyfriend, her friends, and most especially herself. Haunted by the events that forever changed her family, she returns alone to Croatia, where she must rediscover the place that was once her home and search for the ghosts of those she’s lost.

Book Worm’s Thoughts: ★★★.5 “Enjoyed” and “liked” are words you cant really use about this book, not because it is not a good book, but because of the subject matter.  There are horrific scenes of war and violence that are heart rending and difficult to read.

I really liked Ana as a narrator as I could relate to her tomboy attitude. The straight forward way she told her story allowed the reader to really feel the events and to sympathize with those caught up in a war they never wanted and couldn’t understand. Despite the bleak beginning, this is a book about hope, second chances, and building a new life which compliments the past and doesn’t try to brush it away.

Before reading this I had never really thought about events in Croatia in the early 1990’s and any book that encourages further reading about world events gets my vote.

I have given this 3.5 stars it just missed out of 4 stars as I felt the ending was somewhat rushed after the smooth pacing of the rest of the story.

Who would like this? I would recommend this to fans of historical fiction especially those who enjoyed The Book Thief.

Jen’s Thoughts: ★★★★ I read this for my face-to-face book club. At was an emotional and at times difficult book to read — not surprising given the subject matter. Novic captures how childhood experiences and war trauma impact a person’s life in immeasurable ways. I will use the word “enjoyed” although I understand what BW means above when she says she can’t use that word to describe her experience. I really enjoyed the book despite it being emotionally difficult because it was very engaging and well-written.

This is a book that grew on me a little after having read it. When I first finished the novel I felt a little let down by the ending which is fairly open (not for those who like perfect closure in their endings). I was debating giving it 3-3.5 stars. However, the more I thought about it, the more I found it to be a perfect ending -war and trauma don’t just stop having an impact on your life. There is no neat ending or end-point but rather moments of pauses and ups and downs. I thought the ending was intentional and really clever.

A promising debut with a great first sentence: “The war in Zagreb began over a pack of cigarettes.” I look forward to reading more of Ms. Novic’s works in the future.

I will warn readers that this is a book with some challenging scenes. It is a book about the impact of war and the narrator was a child at the time of the war.  Thus as you can imagine, there are some awful things that happen. I had to put the book down at one point to read something light and fluffy. It’s worth the read, just prepare to have lots of emotional reactions.

This was the third Bailey’s nominee book I have read. It wasn’t as good as A Little Life but I liked it much more than The Green Road.

Want to try it for yourself? You can find a copy here: Girl at War

We want to hear from you! Have you read this book? What did you think? 

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. This one interests me. I’m drawn in by stories about former Soviet/Eastern European countries and the ways people had to find to survive when the Soviet/Communist system started to break down.

    Liked by 1 person

    April 27, 2016
    • I hope you read it. I will be curious to see if you like it.


      April 28, 2016
  2. I thought this book was very thoughtful, I liked the narrator and even though it’s horrific at times, it’s more about her emotional state than outright violence. I’m reading a lot from the Longlist as well… so far my favorite is The Portable Veblen. Also loved A God in Ruins.

    Liked by 1 person

    April 28, 2016
    • I agree that it’s about her inner experience and emotions than it is about the violence itself. I think that is why I found the ending clever rather than unsatisfying. The Portable Veblen is next on my list. Can’t wait! BW read God in Ruins and I don’t think she loved it. I think we are posting that next week but if and when we do, add a comment with the link to your review so others can read a different perspective.


      April 28, 2016
  3. I didnt get very far with this book. Maybe I just wasnt in the right mood for it

    Liked by 1 person

    April 28, 2016

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