The main conflict is man vs society; between Lina and the NKVD. They are part of the Soviet Union who take Lina and her family to a work camp in Siberia. Lina struggles to retain her strength as they force them to do hard labor in return for meager food rations. Meanwhile, they have no idea where their father is.
During the train ride to the first work camp, Lina hears that her dad is in one of the other cars. At one of the stops, Lina sneaks out to see him and he gives her an important message that helps Lina stay strong the whole time. He tells her to never stop drawing, and that by her drawings he will find her.
The commander at the first labor camp asks Lina to draw a portrait of him. She struggles with deciding, but finally agrees, knowing that they could benefit very much from the things she got in return. While in his office, Lina notices a file about her dad on his desk. She riskily steals it, and learns where he might be.
The climax is when Lina, her mother, her brother, and some others are sent to another camp near the North Pole. There, the conditions are worse than before and Lina's mother falls very ill, as do many others. Lina finds it almost most hopeless to go on after that, but somehow she does.
The falling action is when Lina's mother dies from the terrible sickness. Everyone becomes weaker and weaker as it gets colder and colder. Lina hears a rumor that her father was killed in a prison camp. They desperately search for food, sometimes stealing, sometimes starving.
The resolution is when Lina hears that her dad might still be alive which gives her hope to endure through the last few days of being at the camp. Also, a doctor comes to the camp and provides them with warm clothing, food, and medicine. This gives them strength until they are finally able to go back home.