REFUGEE BOY

“Look at me, look at all the things that I am capable of, and think of all the things you could call me—a student, a lover of literature, a budding architect, a friend, a symbol of hope even, but what am I called? A refugee.” This is the fate of the refugee. Not only does he flee desperate circumstances, he is ever a stranger in a strange land, ever an outsider with a single identity: refugee. Alem Kelo’s father is Ethiopian, his mother Eritrean, and war is being waged between the two countries. Since his parents’ lives are in danger, Alem is brought to England. Alem thinks he is on a brief pleasure trip, but when his father leaves him there without saying goodbye, he is overnight a refugee in a land of refugees: Asians, Africans, Romanians, Kosovars, and Chileans. After a brief stint in a hotel and an awful time in a children’s home, Alem is lucky to be placed in a foster home with the Fitzgeralds. There he thrives, goes to school, and gradually becomes active in the refugee movement. Though he faces difficult times in England too, the Fitzgeralds provide a safe place. Sometimes the prose is awkward and overwritten, but the story is compelling. And, somehow, even with so much tragedy in a young boy’s life, it doesn’t get bogged down. Alem is a survivor. He says, “Circumstances beyond my control brought me here, and all that I can do now is pick myself up and try my best to make something out of what is left of my life. If good can come from bad, I’ll make it.” Alem is a refugee who transcends his identity as such; he becomes a hero, even a role model and readers will care about him. (Fiction. 10+)

Pub Date: July 1, 2002

ISBN: 1-58234-763-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2002

IF ONLY I HAD TOLD HER

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind.

In this companion novel to 2013’s If He Had Been With Me, three characters tell their sides of the story.

Finn’s narrative starts three days before his death. He explores the progress of his unrequited love for best friend Autumn up until the day he finally expresses his feelings. Finn’s story ends with his tragic death, which leaves his close friends devastated, unmoored, and uncertain how to go on. Jack’s section follows, offering a heartbreaking look at what it’s like to live with grief. Jack works to overcome the anger he feels toward Sylvie, the girlfriend Finn was breaking up with when he died, and Autumn, the girl he was preparing to build his life around (but whom Jack believed wasn’t good enough for Finn). But when Jack sees how Autumn’s grief matches his own, it changes their understanding of one another. Autumn’s chapters trace her life without Finn as readers follow her struggles with mental health and balancing love and loss. Those who have read the earlier book will better connect with and feel for these characters, particularly since they’ll have a more well-rounded impression of Finn. The pain and anger is well written, and the novel highlights the most troublesome aspects of young adulthood: overconfidence sprinkled with heavy insecurities, fear-fueled decisions, bad communication, and brash judgments. Characters are cued white.

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind. (author’s note, content warning) (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781728276229

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2024

IF HE HAD BEEN WITH ME

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.

The finely drawn characters capture readers’ attention in this debut.

Autumn and Phineas, nicknamed Finny, were born a week apart; their mothers are still best friends. Growing up, Autumn and Finny were like peas in a pod despite their differences: Autumn is “quirky and odd,” while Finny is “sweet and shy and everyone like[s] him.” But in eighth grade, Autumn and Finny stop being friends due to an unexpected kiss. They drift apart and find new friends, but their friendship keeps asserting itself at parties, shared holiday gatherings and random encounters. In the summer after graduation, Autumn and Finny reconnect and are finally ready to be more than friends. But on August 8, everything changes, and Autumn has to rely on all her strength to move on. Autumn’s coming-of-age is sensitively chronicled, with a wide range of experiences and events shaping her character. Even secondary characters are well-rounded, with their own histories and motivations.

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.   (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: April 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4022-7782-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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