REFUGEE, by Alan Gratz, Scholastic Press, July 25, 2017, Hardcover, $16.99 (ages 9-12)
Refugee is the first novel I’ve read by Alan Gratz, but based on my experience reading it, it won’t be the last.
Refugee follows three children through three different time periods as each sets out in search of refuge.
Josef is a German Jew in the 1930s. Josef’s father has already survived one concentration camp, and they’re not about to risk another. When he and his family are given a short window of time to leave, they take it.
Isabel lives in Cuba. It’s 1994, and her father has already unsuccessfully tried to escape to America. When riots sweep the streets and Fidel Castro says people are free to leave, she and her family set out on a homemade raft.
Mahmoud is a Syrian boy in 2015. So far his family has escaped the worst violence, but only by keeping their heads down and remaining invisible. When their apartment building is destroyed by missile strikes, they throw caution to the wind and head for Europe.
Refugee is a harrowing and heartfelt look at those who are forced from the homes they love in search for safety and a sense of belonging.
I found the parallels between each of the characters’ circumstances fascinating. It seems history truly is doomed to repeat itself. Society just can’t seem to accept and embrace differences. Despite the doom and gloom, the common thread among all the refugees is a feeling of hope. Sometimes that hope waxes and wanes, but it remains just the same.
I’ve seen a few reviews complaining of the suggested age range for Refugee, stating that this is too heavy a subject for younger children. I wholeheartedly disagree. While there are some elements of violence, Gratz is neither heavy handed nor heartless. Nothing here is added for shock value. I would argue the only difference between this and say the Harry Potter or Percy Jackson books is that what happens in Refugee happened in real life. The stories are fiction, but the events are real. I would, however, suggest reading this with your 9-12-year-old. Talk about it. The power here comes in the shared experience.
Refugee is a profoundly moving novel. And it’s particularly poignant against the backdrop of today’s politics around the world.