by Alan Gratz
It isn’t often that I preorder books. Okay, that was a lie. It isn’t often that I preorder books for ME to read. I usually get them because they’re by popular authors (like Stuart Gibbs or Kwame Alexander) or because my daughter loves the book (like The Owl Diaries series). I preordered Refugee, because it was in my Twitter feed for several solid months straight, meaning before it was even out, people were reading it and raving about it. In my quest to read every single Newbery contender, I figured I’d order it before I forgot about it. Oh my gosh, you guys. You have to read this. I’m not sure if it’s a Newbery contender (those tend to be like Oscar movies where you finish and you aren’t sure if you liked it or not, or you’re not sure if they were written for children or adults), but this is a must-read if you live on planet Earth.
Refugee follows the stories of 3 refugee children, all 11-13 years old, during different time periods. Josef is a Jewish child living in Germany, when his father is taken by the Nazis and put into a concentration camp. He is released, and the family reunites to board the St. Louis and said across the Atlantic in hopes of gaining entrance to Cuba as refugees. Fast forward to 1994, and you’ll meet Isabel, a Cuban girl living in poverty under Fidel Castro’s reign. She, with her family and neighbors, set out in a homemade “boat” to get to Miami after Castro says they are free to leave without being put into jail. They face sharks, weather, a cargo ship, and several health issues that put their trip in jeopardy. Our third story is Mahmoud, a Syrian boy living in Aleppo. He leaves Syria and travels across the Mediterranean Sea to try to reach Germany with his parents, younger brother, and baby sister. Each of these three refugee children have a long, tough journey, and lose a loved one along the way. We find out later that their three stories are connected, and that although they’re living during different times, their struggles are similar, and their goals are the same- to find a new, safe place to live without fear of living in terror.
What I liked about this book… when I first started it, I thought it was interesting learning about their backgrounds and living conditions. I enjoy historical fiction. But I was quickly sucked into their stories, and I was rooting for them. When Isabel was just yards away from the shore, the tears began, and continued through the end of the story. It is a very emotional, powerful, and REAL book that needs to be in the hands of my students. The refugee crisis isn’t something we’re hearing about on tv with the war in Syria. It has been going on all throughout history, and this book brings that to the reader’s attention. He could write Refugee part 2 and include refugees from Vietnam or Cambodia, Korea, the Kurds, the Christians in Muslim countries, etc. There will always be refugees as long as there are wars.
What I didn’t like about this book… I can’t really think of anything. It was engaging from beginning to end, and while heartbreaking, it is necessary.
Book 17 of summer 2017!