16-year-old Sanda lives in North London with her Serbian immigrant parents. Home life is grim with her mother in particular taking little notice of her, and her parents always arguing. Sanda knows nothing about her background other than that her parents arrived in England after the 1992-1995 Bosnian War, and no family or friends ever visit. School’s pretty miserable too, until the gorgeous Joe Mullins asks her out.
Meanwhile, Sanda’s parents have been acting strangely since the arrival of a letter bearing a French postcode. Then Sanda finds a photograph of herself when young – her different coloured eyes make her immediately identifiable – but the name written underneath is not hers. She comes back from school the next day to a completely empty house, and both she and Joe are abducted by two menacing Serbs, before they’ve even had a chance to go on their first date.
Sanda and Joe are smuggled to Bosnia, where they have a truly action-packed time. They try to escape, are caught, end up in an orphanage, escape again (with an orphan in tow), get injured, are separated, and come across an array of goodies and baddies – including Sanda’s ‘mother’ who turns out to be evil personified. Sanda gradually uncovers the secrets of her life, and faces the truth about her parents. Her spirit is awe-inspiring throughout – she never gives up no matter how impossible the situation seems. Jane Brittan paints some truly gruelling pictures: the description of beatings at the orphanage were particularly harrowing.
The book really is an impossible-to-put-down page-turner; just when the pace seems to let up, there’s another drama. As well as inadvertently teaching the reader about the Bosnian War, it also explores the fall-out of such a devastating conflict. The happy ending comes as a huge relief – and one that Sanda definitely deserves after all she’s been through.