After a family secret reveals that his freedom might be in danger, the life of Shif, a 14-year-old African boy who excels at school, takes an unexpected turn.
Shif needs to leave his home country (not named but probably Eritrea) to escape military service by being smuggled to Europe. But plans to escape are cut short, and he is rounded up with his best friend, Bini, to a prison where dissidents are often kept for life without trial. As the older inmates help the young boys plot an escape, Shif and Bini learn that their stories are not unique in a country where no one is allowed to criticize the government and there is always something someone could be punished for. Escaping the prison that’s in the middle of the desert comes at a huge price. When Shif arrives at a town where he does not know the language, he is thirsty, hungry, dirty, and almost dead. A door opens when he meets the family of Almaz, a young girl from his country, and finds out that they are on the run too, but new forms of danger loom en route to Europe via the desert and then the sea. Shif’s present-tense narration pins readers to his side throughout his ordeal. The publisher's suggested age range is 8 to 12, but the narrative feel, all-too-realistic violence, and relentless grimness of Shif’s circumstances suggest an older audience.
A suspenseful debut novel about the forces of greed and love that shape a refugee’s fate. (Fiction. 13-18)