It’s 1978, and life is good for high school senior Eva Lott. She is on the varsity swim team, she’s dating the best-looking guy in the class, and she’s comfortable in her daily existence as a cute, popular girl about to graduate. Life in her Chicago suburb is comfortable, and since her mother’s death from cancer, Eva has learned to play it safe, living in the here and now. But when her father, Professor Lott, tells her they are moving to Poland to be part of the underground movement there, Eva is stunned. How can he do this to her? You can finish high school through correspondence and still make Northwestern next fall, he says, but that’s awfully far into the future for Eva.
The novel then alternates between the stories of Eva and her new friend, Tomek. Eva wants the security of her comfortable life in America. She is horrified not to have seen meat, popcorn or ice cream in any stores during her first days in Poland. She is trapped in this place with no friends, no phone, no TV, and nothing to eat. Eva understands little in Poland; in fact, she thinks Polish words sound more like sneezes than real words.
Tomek, a tall, handsome Polish boy, is impatient to study poetry and pass his exams at the university, but he is involved with the underground and now has to baby-sit this spoiled American girl with too many possessions. Between the two stands Professor Lott, with his determination to do something worthwhile with his life, to make a difference. One day you’ll be proud to say you played a part in Polish independence, he tells Eva. The alternating chapters format is effective in differentiating the points of view and showing the developing relationship between Eva and Tomek. Readers get to watch as a teenaged American girl is yanked out of her comfort zone and put in an utterly foreign place where she must learn to survive; they will be cheered to see her come into her own and thrive. Eva Underground is a fine coming-of-age novel. Dean Schneider is an English teacher in Nashville.