AGERANGE: Ages 12 to 18.
In this striking historical novel, fourteen-year-old Marko is a ski messenger on the front line of Finland's desperate Winter War against the Soviet Union, which invaded its smaller neighbor in November 1939. Throughout the harsh winter that follows, Marko-who wears a brace from a bout with polio-and his fellow soldiers strive valiantly to beat back the Russian advance. Durbin, author of several nonfiction and fiction titles for young readers, vividly evokes the fierce cold, the bloody victories and defeats, and the nearly impossible task of holding back the Soviet Army, which boasted one hundred times the tanks and four times the number of soldiers for each of Finland's. The heroism of Marko and his fellow messengers, who ski unarmed in white camouflage through the dark forests along the front line, is as well portrayed as their doubts and fears for the future. Marko's friend Karl and the novel's other secondary characters are fully realized, and the book is peppered with Finnish customs and language, enhancing its authenticity. A map depicting the setting as well as Finland's territory before and after the war, an afterword with a concise summary of events, and a list of resources for further study round out an excellent supplement for classroom discussion and an appealing choice for teen fans of historical fiction. Reviewer: Leah J. Sparks
April 2008 (Vol. 31, No. 1)
AGERANGE: Ages 12 up.
It is 1940 and Stalin has ordered the invasion of Finland by the Soviet Red Army. Outnumbered, under equipped, and under prepared for this massive invasion, the Finns bravely man their defensive lines. In the midst of this Winter War one youngster, who has suffered from the effects of a debilitating illness, tries to be of assistance to both his family and his nation. Marko is a victim of polio and that terrible disease has left its mark upon him in the shape of a metal leg brace. Yet, despite this disabling condition, Marko can still cross country ski with the best of them. As a result of this talent, Marko becomes a messenger taking vital information from one company to another. There in the war zone Marko learns about things like comradeship, sacrifice, and the horrors of war. All through his experience at the front Marko is also puzzled by the actions of one of his fellow soldiers named Karl. Karl is Marko's age but seems so bitter and closed off from the other soldiers. In the end, Marko discovers the reasons for Karl's behavior as well as great deal about himself and the savagery of even just wars. Winter War is the latest offering of William Durbin, a noted writer of historical fiction for young adults. In this period piece Durbin does well in capturing the nature of the often unknown Winter War between Finland and the USSR. Beyond the vivid depictions of combat in an Arctic-like landscape, Durbin also presents characters that seem believable. Although Marko and Karl are the only real figures who emerge from the background of this story, their evolution at the front and eventual sharing of a significant secret are enough to keep the plotlinerunning. This is a fine book and it will interest readers who enjoy wartime fiction or coming of age stories. Reviewer: Greg M. Romaneck
In the fall of 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Finland, a conflict that came to be known as the Winter War. Although Marko's leg has been crippled by polio, he is eager to help defend Finland from the attackers, and he is proud to be chosen as a ski messenger for a military command group. This group hides out in the woods waging guerilla warfare on the Soviets. They are pounded by artillery guns and greatly outnumbered, but bravely hold the line. Their best ally is the bitter cold--as low as minus 56 degrees. Marko cheerfully helps the medics, chops woods, and digs trenches as well as running messages, accompanied by his always-sad fellow messenger Karl, who hides a surprising secret. In the end, the Finns must cede land to the Soviets, but while Marko loses his home village, he has helped to save his country. Durbin shines light on a little-known but hard-fought struggle and convincingly, viscerally, describes the battles, life on the front lines, and the terrible cold. An afterword provides more details of the conflict and the toll it took. A sure winner for fans of war stories. Age Range: Ages 12 to 18. REVIEWER: Paula Rohrlick (Vol. 42, No. 1)
Gr 5-9- In 1939 Finland, Marko serves proudly as a sky watcher, a junior member of the Civil Guard. On November 30, when Russian bombers attack his village, his best friend is killed, and his younger sister and brother must evacuate to Sweden. A chance encounter with a former teacher, now an army lieutenant, propels Marko, who still limps as a result of a bout with polio, to the front lines. His familiarity with the area around Savolahti and his orienteering skills make him an ideal clandestine messenger, carrying information back and forth between the small companies of soldiers hidden in the hills. The Winter War, a little-known campaign of World War II, comes to life as Marko relates his experiences during the bone-chilling months of 1939 and 1940. Durbin's graphic depictions of the realities of war are not for the faint of heart, and he does not soften his message regarding the lack of support that America and the world showed Finland during this time. More than a war story, though, this is a tale of resilience and self-discovery: Marko finds unsuspected reservoirs of strength within himself. The endings for him and his friends are a little too pat, but an afterword and sources for further study will satisfy readers who want to learn more. An engaging novel for adventure lovers and fans of historical fiction alike.-Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Set in Finland during the 1939 Russian invasion, this recounts a little-known war. As a junior member of the Civil Guard, war comes personally to Marko when his best friend is blown up by a Russian bomb, his father is conscripted and his grandmother and little sister are sent to live safely in Sweden. Despite a leg weakened by polio, Marko skis well and volunteers to serve at the front as a messenger throughout the war. Well-researched, this is filled with information and detail about polio, Finnish culture and history and winter warfare. For casual readers the wealth of background may sometimes overwhelm characterization and slow the narrative arc of what is essentially a fascinating and, at times, grisly war story. Those who stick with it will likely not forget this portrayal of maddening injustice and of the indomitability of the Finnish spirit during what history calls "The Winter War." (historical afterword, bibliography of sources for study) (Historical fiction. 12-15)