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I know this isn’t the first time this book has appeared on the blog, but I’m bringing it back for many reasons: 1) to solidify the value of diverse and nonfictional YA literature 2) relay the importance of teaching empathy 3) how this is the perfect example of a cross-curricular opportunity for English and social studies classes. Using multiple critical lenses, I will interpret my thoughts and its pertinence to the novel.
From former Yugaslavia, my parents immigrated to the states before the war in the 90s. I have families living in both, Serbia and Bosnia i Herzegovina, and have seen the aftermath of the bombings; multiple bridges collapsed into the Danube River, buildings partially standing in old Beograd due to the structural damage from the explosions; my grandmother had a bomb land in her yard, luckily, something with the wiring was wrong so it never went off. My experiences of the war are secondhand, and when I read about Amra’s experience it offers a perspective that I can empathize with.
For example, Amra provides insight into what it really means to be a female teenager. Alone. On a train. With vulgar and haughty men. I can feel her emotions of discomfort just seep off of the page and onto my skin. The hardest part to accept of this teen’s reality was that these men were Serbian soldiers. The soldiers assumed she was Serbian, not recognizing that she is Bosnian-Mulsim. However, the conversation she heard amongst themselves was disturbing and frightening. It was undeniably difficult for me to visualize that my own people, the people I identify with, would discuss persecuting innocent people. Yet, this is why diverse and nonfictional literature is significant because Amra’s experiences solidify the hard truth of a person’s reality and validates perceptions different from others.
Furthermore, Amra opens the discussion on ethnic issues by delicately incorporating the dialogue between herself and Tata (slavic for Dad). Tata’s explanations to Amra’s inquiries of why her friends don’t want to see her anymore are more words of wisdom than anything else. He explains that war changes people and not to blame them for it because they are all merely trying to survive. Metaphorically, I imply his teachings as a chess game that the political agendas are the strategies of the larger and stronger pieces on the board whereas the men, woman, and children in towns and villages are pawns - not as strong, but are the first to feel the effects of the game…
For the final analysis, I would recommend this novel for ELA 10/ World Literature courses with the hope that it is cross-sectioned with Social Studies 10/ World History. Using critical lenses (reader’s response, feminist, new historicism, and psychoanalytic), English lessons would pertain to characters, their relationships, and how each sees the world in that moment of time while social studies can focus on the historical, political, cultural context to supplement the background knowledge of Amra’s life before, during, and after the war.
Although I chose not to focus on the cat who was never named, it is worth mentioning that it will tug at your heart strings!
BIO-Sonja Howard is a passionate educator specializing in English Language Arts for 9th and 10th graders. She is obtaining a doctoral degree in literacy education with a focus on novel study and English curriculum from UNLV. With her expertise, Sonja aims to instill a love for literature in her students, making a positive impact on their educational journey.