Released September 13, 2016.
In a country at war, even children are not safe. Sofarende is being bombed, including the town where 12-year-old Mathilde lives. There isn’t enough food, the sirens sound often, and then there is the destruction and people dying. Mathilde does have her best friend Megs who lives only a few doors away. Now the government has started recruiting children into service. It offers families a chance to have enough food and enough money to survive. The children have to pass a test. Mathilde knows that if Megs takes the test, she will be taken into service since Megs is top of their class. Mathilde takes the test as well, realizing that she too can change the way her entire family survives and lives though recognizing that she isn’t as gifted as Megs in school. But this test isn’t like any other they have ever taken, so the results aren’t either.
LeFleur has written a haunting look at war and the way that it impacts families and children. She presents us with a society that is already battered by the conflict and facing serious shortages. Into that angst and fear, she introduces a way forward, sacrificing children to the effort. It is that moment that mirrors so many choices that families must face in war, sending children to safety, sacrifice in order to find hope, becoming refugees. It is a powerful moment that LeFleur allows to stand and lengthen beautifully.
In the latter part of the book, the children’s efforts at war are meticulously written, yet there is a lovely lack of clarity as well. There is hope in what they are doing, a sense that children see the world very differently from adults and that that is important and valid. At its heart is hope for the future, an end to the conflict and an ability to look beyond today. This too is a powerful time, where conversation and humanity could win over war and despair.
This is the first in a series and I look forward to the next installment. The combination of skillful writing and a powerful scenario with a dynamic and unique heroine creates a series that is very special. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Wendy Lamb Books and Edelweiss.