Monday, December 18, 2017

Refugee - Alan Gratz

Summary: JOSEF is a Jewish boy living in 1930s Nazi Germany. With the threat of concentration camps looming, he and his family board a ship bound for the other side of the world . . .

ISABEL is a Cuban girl in 1994. With riots and unrest plaguing her country, she and her family set out on a raft, hoping to find safety in America . . .

MAHMOUD is a Syrian boy in 2015. With his homeland torn apart by violence and destruction, he and his family begin a long trek toward Europe . . .

All three kids go on harrowing journeys in search of refuge. All will face unimaginable dangers -- from drownings to bombings to betrayals. But there is always the hope of tomorrow. And although Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud are separated by continents and decades, their stories will tie together in the end. (Summary and image from

Review: You’ll have to forgive me if this is a little gushy or rambly - I finished this book last night and am still reeling from the emotional punches it threw. I found myself in tears more than once, which is not something I had expected, but that made it difficult to not run upstairs, wake up my son (who got me reading Gratz in the first place) and demanding that he read this book RIGHT NOW THIS VERY INSTANT!

This isn’t an easy book to read. Granted, Gratz’s other books don’t exactly pull punches, and he specializes in making difficult subjects easier to introduce to ready middle readers. However, that doesn’t mean that this is one to skip. Instead of dealing with history, Gratz has tackled a pressing issue that has been thrust into the public with the expansion of media reporting - the refugee crisis. Taking three different refugees, Josef - a German Jew fleeing Hitler’s regime aboard the St. Louis, Isabel - a Cuban who is desperately trying to get her family and the family of her best friend to America and away from Fidel Castro, and Mahmoud - a Syrian boy who is just trying to get to Germany where he and his family can be safe from the shells destroying his home, Gratz jumps from story to story, showing the reader the struggles, the fears, the boredom or extreme anxiety that each refugee faces. Masterfully done, he then interweaves their stories in such an unexpected and touching manner, that when I noticed what was happening, it quite literally took my breath away.

Typically the stories that Gratz relates are semi biographical, but in this instance, all three characters are fictional. Their experiences are real, they are based upon real children who went through the stress and the tribulations these characters did, but this is fictional. The issues, however, are not, and the way Gratz confronts them is tastefully, unabashedly, truthfully done. 

I have loved Gratz’s other books, but this one struck me in a way that his others simply haven’t been able to. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a must read, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in classrooms soon.

Rating: Five very shiny stars

For the Sensitive Reader: Some violence, a shark attack, and it’ll just chew up your heart

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