Archive for March, 2012

This is a very powerful book: all the more powerful and painful as it is based on historical fact and first-hand accounts.

Lina is a fifteen year old Lithuanian school girl, a talented artist, a member of a loving family. In 1941, caught between Hitler’s fascism to the west and Stalin’s communism to the East, Lithuania was invaded and annexed by Russia and Stalin ordered the deportation of thousands of people to prisons, slavery and work camps. Lina and her family become one of them.

The book opens with the NKVD assaulting Lina’s home and taking her in the middle of the night. The novel then moves in three sections: the horror of the train carriage in which they are imprisoned to travel weeks across Russia; their time in a Siberian beet farm; and finally their further deportation into the arctic circle.

Be careful before choosing to read this book: the horrors and deprivations faced by Lina are not shied away from here. There are moments of violence, brutality, horror and abuse. That said, there are also images of hope: Lina’s drawings, the stone that Andrius finds and gives Lina, moments of generosity from people who have nothing; characters who show dignity in the worst situations; characters whose basic goodness comes out in the painfully few times they can show it.

A hugely powerful book and shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal. I do question whether it is really appropriate for a Young Adult / Secondary School readership? I’d be careful advising anyone under KS4 to read this!

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Just finished My Name Is Mina. Good book, interesting but I don’t think it’s a winner. It tells the story of Mina from Skellig, essentially recording her thoughts in a journal over the winter / spring before she met Michael. I have a memory of her being quite mysterious and enigmatically in Skellig and was looking forward to hearing her voice.

I have mixed feelings about it: it doesn’t feel to me like it is a prequel, more of an extended prologue to Skellig. There was something powerful in her dogged desire to be true to herself and not straitjacketed into a niche in society. There are also moments of genuine pathos… But I didn’t find her voice as compelling as I’d hoped. I also felt I’d have liked to see more of her mum: having lost her father and husband, fiercely protected her daughter, taken on her home schooling and nurtured Mina, I felt HER story would have been interesting. The moment when she is called into THE HEAD TEACHER’s office after the triumphantly disastrous SATs could have been brilliant but seemed anti climactic to me!

There are some interesting things here about education and children and creativity, all of which I personally support. I’m also glad that the anti-education system philosophy was tempered by an understanding that the teachers weren’t all bad too! The Blake references were all there as would be expected; interesting ideas about the power and playfulness of words. But for a book that purports to champion the ‘weird’, I felt it wasn’t quite weird enough…

Anyway, my next book is due and I will probably reread Skellig whilst waiting.

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