This is the story of Vera, the seventeen-year-old daughter of Katya – a Russian Jew and Lucas – the descendant of a Catholic escapee from a concentration camp. Vera is insightful, intelligent and troubled, she’s recovering from a breakdown that saw her sectioned after she stripped and cut her arms at a party.
Lucas has only been a weekend dad at most so he decides to take her to Lithuania, his grandmother’s homeland, for the summer. He hopes to connect with Vera in a more meaningful way and help her through adjusting to her diagnosis.
This story is told in first person from Lucas’ point of view supplemented by emails from Vera to her boyfriend Fang and documents written by her exploring new ideas and their connections.
Both the main characters are instantly intriguing and sympathetic, as the story is more Lucas’ than Vera’s she could have come across as quite a stereotypical rebellious teenager but the author is careful to round out her character with other people’s positive reactions to her.
The descriptions of Vilnius paint a fascinating city, I’ve a friend from this city who used to wax lyrical about it but this made me want to visit it far more. Maybe that was because of the focus on the history and the people of the place and I felt like I could connect to the stories held within.
The exploration of different religions, though quite a gentle exploration, added an unexpected dimension to this which worked really well, it solidified the various characters but was also thought provoking. Especially as it intersected with the much more thorough exploration of mental illness.
Although not really written as a Young Adult book, this could definitely be read and enjoyed by ages 16 and over.