School Library Journal
Gr 6–8—Thor takes readers back to World War II Sweden in this sequel to A Farway Island (Delacorte, 2009). Stephie and Aunt Märta are on a boat bound for Göteborg, where the 13-year-old will continue her education while boarding with the Söderberg family. Life in the city brings intellectual and social challenges for Stephie, and she reacts to them realistically. She is naive in her relationship with the Söderbergs' son, Sven, and her temper gets the better of her on more than one occasion. Her crush on him, class conflicts, worry about her Jewish parents who are still in Nazi-occupied Vienna, and her interactions with friends and classmates keep the story full of tension. The teen matures by learning to navigate various relationships—in particular, those with a city friend, the Söderbergs, and a Jewish classmate who has an eating disorder. The ending leaves Stephie's parents' fate unknown, possibly to be determined in the next installment. Though the portrayal of Mr. and Mrs. Söderberg is stereotypical at times and there are some uneven characterizations, Thor nonetheless places readers in Stephie's world with writing that brings to mind Gloria Whelan's books. A good addition to World War II literature.—Hilary Writt, Sullivan University, Lexington, KY
From the Publisher
Booklist, December 1, 2011:
"A compelling look at World War II–era Sweden, this distinguished Holocaust story will resonate."
Horn Book, January/February 2012:
"Stephie’s story of adjustment to a new school and of a first crush is both specific and universal"
Children's Literature - Leona Illig
Stephie Steiner and her sister are Jewish refugees who have escaped from Nazi-occupied Vienna to Sweden. They are separated from their parents, who are trapped in Austria. Through the kindness of her foster parents and others, Stephie is allowed to make a temporary home for herself in Sweden and enroll in school. But nothing about her new life in Sweden is ordinary. Faced with prejudice, inside the schoolroom and out, she finds that friends and enemies are difficult to identify. And her love for Sven, an eighteen-year-old political activist, complicates her life in ways that she could never have imagined. This book tells the story of Stephie as she copes with guilt over the fate of her parents, fear for her own future, and confusion about the class struggles of people around her. It is a powerful story of a young teenager who, in addition to dealing with her own emotions, must also cope with the dangers of a world in the midst of war. This is the second book in a planned four-part series. While reading the first book, A Faraway Island, would enrich one's reading experience, the second book can be read on its own without any problem. The story is told in third-person, and in the present tense. Although the use of the present tense can be jarring, it is clear that the author has chosen it to convey the urgency of her story. The characters are believable, and the setting is compelling. Because of the multiple themes (first love, separation, anti-Semitism, and class injustice), this book has a broad appeal to both young and older teens. It is safe to say that readers will not be able to put this book down, and will no doubt be anticipating the next installment. Reviewer: Leona Illig
Read an Excerpt
The funnel of the steamboat opens wide, releasing a mournful howl and a cloud of black smoke. The moorings have been dropped, and the gangway has been drawn up. In a wide arc the boat pulls away from the pier and steers out to sea.
Stephie stands in the stern, waving. All the people on the pier wave back: Nellie, Auntie Alma, the little ones, and Vera. Stephie said goodbye to Uncle Evert last night, before he headed off with the fishing boat he works on, the Diana. When he and the rest of the crew return with their catch in a few days, Stephie won’t be there.
The people on the pier are shrinking; soon Stephie can’t see them. The last thing she loses sight of is Vera’s copper-red hair, glistening in the sun.
“Let’s go inside and sit down,” Aunt Marta says. “Our clothes are getting dirty from the coal smoke.”
Brushing a few particles of dirt only she can see off the sleeve of her light summer coat, Aunt Marta precedes Stephie to the passenger area, her little straw hat pressed firmly down over the gray bun at her neck.
Aunt Marta’s wearing her very best clothes to take Stephie to Goteborg, where Stephie is going to board with Dr. Soderberg and his wife, so she can continue her schooling. The school on the island is only for the first six years. One weekend a month, and on vacations, she’ll stay with Aunt Marta and Uncle Evert. It’s all planned.
The air in the passenger area is muggy; Stephie fans herself with a newspaper someone left on the bench where they’re sitting. Aunt Marta, though, sits straight as a ramrod, with her buttons done up to the neck and the corners of her head scarf crossed neatly over her chest. She doesn’t seem to notice the heat.
The suitcase at Stephie’s side contains nearly all her earthly possessions: her clothes, her books, her diary, and her photographs of Mamma and Papa. The only thing she left in the room under the eaves at Aunt Marta and Uncle Evert’s is her old teddy bear. She’s a big girl now, thirteen.
She intends to go by the name of Stephanie at her new school. It sounds romantic and grown up, not childish like her nickname. Sven, the Soderbergs’ son, calls her Stephanie. She’s looking forward to seeing him again soon.
“My name is Stephanie,” she mutters softly to herself.
“What was that?” asks Aunt Marta.
“There’s no need to be nervous,” Aunt Marta tells her. “You’re just as good as everyone else, remember that. Better, even.”
Aunt Marta doesn’t easily dish out praise, or flattery, as she calls it. Coming from her, this is an enormous compliment.
“Aunt Marta,” Stephie begins.
“Have you ever regretted taking me in?”
Aunt Marta looks bewildered. “Regretted? Of course not,” she says. “We did the right thing. There’s no regretting that.”
“But I mean have you never wished they had sent you a different child? A nicer one?”
At that, something even more unusual happens. Aunt Marta laughs.
“Oh, my dear girl, you have the strangest ideas! The thought has never so much as entered my mind. I admit that you do foolish things at times, but you’ve never done anything so bad that both God and I were not prepared to forgive you.”
Stephie can’t help wondering who is stricter, Aunt Marta or her God. Or do God and Aunt Marta always agree about everything?
The steamboat barrels along between the little islands and skerries. Off in the distance behind them is the horizon.
A year ago Stephie and her younger sister, Nellie, made this trip in the opposite direction, from Goteborg out to the faraway island; it was the last leg of their long journey from home. Their parents are still in Vienna. The Swedish government agreed to take in Jewish refugee children, but no adults.
When Stephie was sent to the island, she had to leave everything familiar behind and make her way to a foreign country to live with strangers who spoke a language of which she knew not a word. In a letter to her parents, she wrote, This place is nothing but sea and stones. I can’t live here. She never sent that letter.
This time she’s not leaving because anyone is making her; she’s leaving of her own free will. She wants to go on with her education, study hard, and go to the university, where she’ll become a doctor, like Papa. She’s wanted to follow in his footsteps for as long as she can remember. But from the beginning, of course, she expected to do it all at home, in Vienna.
So here she is, breaking away again, this time from Aunt Marta and Uncle Evert; from Vera, the one friend she finally made; and from Nellie, who’s going to stay with Auntie Alma and her family on the island. Will Stephie never again feel completely at home anywhere? Will she always be on her way to the next destination?
The boat will soon be in Goteborg. They’ve left the sea and are making their way through the mouth of the Gota River to the harbor.
“Couldn’t we go out on deck now?” Stephie asks. “I’d like to see the city from the water.”
“All right,” Aunt Marta concedes. “If it means so much to you.”
They stand by the guardrail on the right-hand side. On that bank of the river is the city center. The other bank is actually an island, a big one, called Hisingen, where all the shipyards and industries are.
“Look, the Seaman’s Wife.” Aunt Marta points to a statue of a woman on a very tall column. “She’s looking out to sea, waiting for her husband to return.”
Although Stephie can’t see the statue’s face, she imagines that the woman looks like Aunt Marta, with those worry lines she always has on her forehead when Uncle Evert is out at sea. There is a war on, the fishing waters are a minefield, and although Sweden is not one of the countries at war, Swedish fishing and merchant vessels have been blown up.
The boat docks at the pier, which is very long, wide near the shore and narrower farther out in the river. Men in blue overalls are loading barrels and boxes from nearby trucks. Stephie feels a bit dizzy; she hasn’t seen so many people in one place for a very long time. Cautiously, suitcase in hand, she makes her way down the gangplank. She and Aunt Marta press through the crowd toward land. Stephie sees a steady stream of traffic; the cars smell nasty to her unaccustomed nose. She takes a big stride from the pier to the cobblestones. It has been a whole year since she set foot on a city street.
From the Hardcover edition.