Emilia is a Jewish teenager volunteering in a Polish hospital during WWII. When the Germans first take control of her city, life isn’t too bad. But then Emilia inadvertently catches the eye of a German soldier, who uses her vulnerable position to his advantage. She is ashamed of this, but doesn’t realize what a little thing it is compared to what she is about to endure when she and her mother are sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp. Here, Emilia struggles to survive and form bonds of kinship among her fellow detainees, while keeping a wary eye on the abusive guards and praying she’ll live to see freedom once again.
Despite the age of the protagonist, this is not a YA book. It’s very much a book for adults – brutal and often difficult to read because of its brutality. The plot is based on a true story, but even knowing that, the amount of violence Emilia endures strains credulity. The author does a great job of bringing the horrors of Nazi Poland and Germany and the concentration camps to life, but the use of violence is heavy-handed. This is a good book with realistic characters that I loved and hated in turns, but the harsh reality of the camp threatens to overwhelm it. Readers are in for a rough ride, including graphically depicted rape, murder and physical abuse. Even the ending couldn’t soften the first half of the book.