Mead’s novel includes a brief history of the events leading to the Kosovo Conflict, a map of the region surrounding Kosovo, and a pronunciation guide.
From Kirkus Reviews
Adem, a 14-year-old Albanian, lives in Kosovo, a former province of what was Yugoslavia and is now controlled by the cruel and capricious Serbian military. Life for Adem is grim under the new regime, with food, water, and electricity shortages; worse is the constant persecution by Serb soldiers. The Albanian policy of passive resistance is fine, but when the Serbs become aware of it, retribution is swift and terrible. When his beloved older sister is gunned down after reading a poem to protest the proposed blowing up of a river, Adem and his family are singled out as troublemakers. As Adem is returning from an illicit visit to a friend one night, three soldiers accost him, crushing the bones in his hand with their boots and carving a large Cyrillic cross, the symbol of Serbia, on his chest with a pocket knife. He makes it home–barely–but knows that the persecution will not stop. He resolves to leave, setting out across the mountains. Mead (Junebug, 1995) shows dreadful aspects of the Balkan conflict by depicting the suffering of the people involved. The story is not a pretty one, but it makes some powerful points about innocent people caught up in ethnic struggles and the horrors of life under a totalitarian regime. (Fiction. 10+) — Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP.
From School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-The power of childhood friendships and generous spirits to overcome ethnic hatred is the theme of this moving story of an 11-year-old Albanian victim of the civil war in Kosovo. As Zana Dugolli and her family attempt to escape an attack, her father and two brothers are killed, and Zana is severely wounded. Hospitalized in Belgrade for three months, the terrified child encounters kindness on the part of a Serbian surgeon and, helped by the Red Cross, returns home on crutches. Her recovery is complicated by recurring infections, but the attentions of a British doctor and the revival of a friendship with Lena, the Serbian girl next door, help the healing process. When infection flares up, her mother convinces Lena’s father to take her back to a hospital where she waits out the NATO bombing. In the end, she is reunited with the family she thought she had lost. When the villagers, including her older brother, want to take revenge on Lena’s family, Zana saves their lives by standing with them. The contrasts in the protagonist’s world are clear. Their television plays Venezuelan soap operas but food is cooked on a wood stove and water pumped by hand, outside. However, there is little to anchor this story in a specific setting or culture. Zana could be an American child, Lena is not developed at all, and readers never witness their former friendship. Mead’s sympathy for children caught in adult conflicts is evident, and readers will likely come to share that sympathy but are unlikely to develop a better understanding of the complexities of the Balkan world.
–Kathleen Isaacs, Edmund Burke School, Washington, DC
From School Library Journal
Grade 5-8-The author of Junebug (Farrar, 1995) leaves the drug-infested projects for an even more harrowing setting: Kosovo, Yugoslavia. Fourteen-year-old Adem, an Albanian, tries to survive despite the day-to-day random violence and cruelty of the Serbians. American youngsters may have trouble imagining a school without chairs, books, or heat. They will have trouble visualizing that school’s annual first day tradition: tear gas and beating up the principal. In this republic, Albanian children are not allowed to play organized sports. Personal freedom is an even more valuable commodity than nonexistent gasoline. When Adem’s beloved older sister attempts to make a stand, she is cut down by Serbian bullets, and Adem is consumed by secret guilt that he might have prevented her death. His home life spirals down quickly as his family is crushed by the opposition. After Adem is mutilated by Serbian soldiers, he escapes, aided by a Serb and a gypsy, who is killed during the flight. Mead preps readers with a quick, efficient sketch of Yugoslavia’s recent history before jumping into this disturbing society. She is not taking a political stance. She passionately defends children caught in cultural crossfire. One inconsistency is puzzling. Twice Adem mentions that Fatmira had spoken out and read her peace poem, but the text states that she was shot while waiting to read it. Setting that quibble aside, this book takes a distant and brutal conflict and makes it real. Recommend it to fans of Frances Temple and Suzanne Staples. –Marilyn Payne Phillips, University City Public Library, MO
Gr. 7-10. Kosovo, once a part of Yugoslavia, is populated mostly by Albanians like Adem and his family, who have been tortured and imprisoned (with some people being killed) by Serbian soldiers wanting to reclaim the land they owned prior to the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. Albanian young people, like 14-year-old Adem, try to carry on normal lives. They go to school despite enduring tear-gas attacks and being brutalized by their teachers; they play soccer, though they can’t use a ball; and they go out in the evenings, knowing the soldiers are watching them closely. But when Adem’s sister Fatmira defiantly reads a poem during a demonstration and is machine-gunned to death, the family comes under intense scrutiny, and Adem’s father is horribly beaten in front of the rest of the family. Meanwhile, Adem is agonizing over the loss of his sister, knowing that he might have been able to stop her death. Mead writes powerfully and eloquently about Adem’s attempt to understand why people mistreat each other. The soldiers camping next door in his grandmother’s store “sang songs about killing us and drank a lot of beer to pass the time. They were as bored as I was, but in the opposite way. We were like mirrors through the wall, the reverse of each other.” The story is bleak, occasionally grisly, and absolutely eye-opening as Mead details life in a village where they drink Coke, watch MTV, and try to avoid death long enough for their situation to improve. — Susan Dove Lempke