A Faraway Island
During the early years of World War II, 500 Jewish children were allowed entry into Sweden, expecting it to be a temporary stop while awaiting their parents on the way to America. Most of these children ended up spending the majority of the war years spread throughout the country, hoping to be reunited with family while living with strangers. Using this information, Annika Thor has woven her novel around two Austrian sisters sent alone to the remote islands of Sweden.
In this English translation of a Swedish bestseller, 12-year-old Stephie and 8-year-old Nellie arrive in Sweden and find themselves sent to two different homes for their stay. Nellie immediately fits into her new family, her transition made easy with lots of new friends and her ability to learn Swedish quickly. Stephie, however, is sent to live with a somewhat dour older woman and finds it harder to make friends; the popular girl decides early on to make Stephie miserable, and Stephie’s worry over her parents make things even more difficult. As time goes on, things become more complicated and Stephie must learn to stand up for herself in more ways than one.
A Faraway Island is the first in a quartet of books following the sisters during the war years. I found myself caught up in their plight and applauding Stephie’s developing maturity. The one thing I didn’t care for was the use of present tense, though the author explains it as a way of inserting the reader into the immediacy of the story. But this novel, most suitable for those twelve and younger, is well-written and heart-wrenching. Recommended.