A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this book, by the author of Bridge to Terabithia, doesn't hide the violence and horrors of war at a very human scale. The story is about a fictional family called the Lleshis, but the multiple descriptions of violent acts and the family's fear and many ordeals make the book feel quite realistic. Paterson does not shy away from depicting the brutality. Readers ready for the material will benefit from discussion with parents about the role the United States did play.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Meli Lleshi is an Albanian girl growing up in Kosovo, going to school and helping her family. Her dad owns a grocery store. When her 13-year-old brother is abducted by the Servbian police and beaten, Meli is afraid it is her fault. When he returns to them, the family must flee. The Serbs are killing whole families just for being Albanian. Meli's parents, her siblings, grandmother, cousins, and aunt and uncle survive with little food and water. Life in the hills is like camping at first, but the danger grows, and winter cold sets in. Meli's brother now wants to join the Albanian freedom fighters and kill Serbs, and his parents know that to save him, they will have to take him far away.
Is it any good?
This historical drama is too harrowing for younger readers. This time the author's tale of loss centers on war and all the violence of war as it affects a very real-seeming family and others they know who are slaughtered and threatened. Meli makes a strong and resilient heroine who does her best to help hold her family together, but there's no "happily ever after" feeling when they reach the United States; the family loses everything and is still very poor and adjusting to American life.
One bright spot is that despite all that this family has seen and experienced, Meli's father still holds firm to the belief that hate is never right, and keeping his family together is worth all kinds of sacrifices. His resolve seems to have a positive impact on his son who was close to becoming a freedom fighter. An important book, but not an easy read.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the role of religion and ethnicity in this story. The Lleshi family is not religious, and yet they are persecuted along with the other Albanians. Was religion really the cause?
What role did the United States and NATO play in this war?
Meli's family came to the United States to be safe. They had to be "sponsored" by American citizens before they could come. What does that mean?
Our editors recommend
For kids who love historical and family fiction
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.