Cover image for Smiling for strangers
Smiling for strangers
Hiçyılmaz, Gaye.
Personal Author:
First American edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, [2000]

Physical Description:
151 pages ; 22 cm
During the war, fourteen-year-old Nina flees from her village in Yugoslavia, armed only with some letters and a photograph, to search for an old friend of her mother's in England.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 6.0 7.0 39884.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
X Young Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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During the war, fourteen-year-old Nina flees from her village in Yugoslavia, armed only with some letters and a photograph, to search for an old friend of her mother's in England.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 6^-10. Civil war in the former Yugoslavia is the setting for this honest story of 12-year-old Nina, whose comfortable middle-class life is torn apart. Only Nina and her grandfather remain in their family home near Sarajevo. When the soldiers come through the door, Nina runs and hides in the forest, stows away in an aid convoy, and makes her way to England, where she finally finds shelter with her parents' friend. Readers will be confused about who's fighting whom and what has happened to Nina's family. But the confusion reflects Nina's bewildered viewpoint and her attempts to suppress the horror of her experience. Only gradually does she allow herself to remember that the militia took her father away and that her mother was killed by a shell in the street. The refugee experience is drawn without sentimentality. Nina and her rescuers are often edgy, distant, irritable, and self-absorbed. There's no sweet resolution, though Nina does dare to hope: could her beloved older brother be alive somewhere? --Hazel Rochman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Once again focusing on themes of displacement, Hi‡yilmaz (The Frozen Waterfall) conveys the hardships and emotional turmoil of a girl escaping current-day Sarajevo. Living in the countryside with her grandfather, 14-year-old Nina's precarious safety vanishes when her cousin brings soldiers to the house. The soldiers leave only after fatally wounding Nina's grandfather and cousin, and Nina, following her grandfather's instructions, sets out alone for England and a previously unknown friend of her mother's. She accepts whatever charity is offered: a ride in the back of a British truck; meager lodging with a disturbed ex-soldier; faded, hand-me-down clothes; and pitying glances. While she is "smiling for strangers," Nina silently seethes about the humiliations and injustices she has to endure. Her fury does not surface until she reaches her destination and meets her mother's friend, who reveals family secrets that Nina is not ready to accept. The violence Nina has experienced surfaces through fragments of dreams and memories; only gradually are the painful fates of her parents, brothers and cousins revealed. This approach seems emotionally truthful, but demands a lot from readers, especially given the intricacies of the conflicts in Bosnia and the former Yugoslavia. More central to the story are Nina's prevailing sense of loss and strong survival instincts. Nina emerges as psychologically complex, a tough and scarred heroine who may awaken readers to the price of war. Ages 10-up. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 6-9-In this fast-paced survival story set in 1996, Hi‡yilmaz illuminates the emotional price of war. Nina Topic, 14, and her grandfather survived the siege of Sarajevo and have fled to his country home. After soldiers nearly kill him, she reluctantly heeds his advice and escapes, with the help of an aid convoy, trying to reach England and the address that her grandfather has given her. Along her perilous journey, she must learn to ask for and accept help from strangers, and make decisions about whom to trust. Nina's observations of the death and devastation in Bosnia-Herzegovina contrast sharply with richly detailed prewar memories of happy family moments in the lush landscape, which are all she has left of her parents, extended family, and friends. She is ignorant of matters of asylum and ill prepared for life on her own. This book features some beautiful writing and riveting characterizations, but the omission of all but a slight allusion to the politics propelling the fighting leaves readers without necessary background to understand what is going on in Nina's homeland.-Laura Scott, Baldwin Public Library, Birmingham, MI (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.