Annika Thor's book A Faraway Island has been on my radar for a while...one of those books I thought I would like, but didn't have access to at my library yet. I read it yesterday, thrilled with it and amazed at how much I really did like the book...and totally irritated that I cannot find the next three books about Nellie and Stephie in English. If I spoke Swedish things would be great, but for right now I am stuck wanting to know more about these remarkable girls.
Thor's story is set during the very beginning of World War II. Nellie and Stephie are two Jewish girls from the cosmopolitan city of Vienna, the daughters of a doctor father and opera singer mother. When their parents begin to fear for their safety, they send their children away to Sweden, still a safe haven, to live with foster families. Nellie, at the age of seven, adapts more easily to her new way of life, learning a new language and making friends more quickly than twelve year old Stephie. Stephie finds her foster mother cold and distant and is bullied and teased by the other girls at school. Life in Sweden in a rural setting is nothing like the bustling city of Vienna. When the girls first arrived in Sweden both had been told by their parents that they would be reunited within six months, and then travel to America where they would make a new life. Time passes and as the war escalates and other European countries fall to Hitler, the idea of being reunited quickly seems remote, and Stephie receives a letter from her father asking for her help - that she talk to her foster family about trying to help them get out of Germany. It becomes very obvious that Aunt Marta and Aunt Alma, the girls' foster mothers,
do not understand the dire situation in Germany and at first seem unconcerned. Yet as time passes and Stephie shares the story of how the Nazis rounded up her family along with all of the neighbors, Marta begins to see what Stephie and her family have been through and begins to show a tender caring side that Stephie has so needed to see.
This story is nowhere near over by book's end. I am so curious to see how things unfold for Stephie and Nellie. Thor leaves readers with resolution to some portions of the plot, but the reason for Stephie and Nellie's presence in Sweden- the need for them to be apart from their parents is unresolved, and World War II is just heating up.
I had a hard time reading about the bullying that Stephie experienced...it just seemed so unfair that after being taken away from her family that she wouldn't be able to find some happiness at school or with the distant Marta. Thor redeemed herself a little on this point by the ending, and things appear to be looking up a bit for Stephie, although she is no closer to being reunited with her parents than she was at the beginning of the novel. I am soooooo hoping the rest of these books are published soon in English.
A great historical fiction novel for tweens and those interested in World War II.