A heartfelt but disappointing attempt at convincingly presenting a Syrian refugee’s perspective.

A HOUSE WITHOUT WALLS

A Syrian teen grows up quickly when her family becomes refugees in Jordan.

Safiya is a 12-year-old girl whose life carried on normally despite the ongoing Syrian civil war, as the conflict had yet to truly affect her city of Damascus. This all changes when a client of her father’s law practice is pursued by the government’s secret police and Safiya’s world is turned upside down. She and her family are forced to flee their home and live as refugees in Jordan, where her late mother came from. Safiya quickly learns that she must adapt in order to survive in this new country, living in a tent without a means of income or status. Though the details of the war are well explained and the author—who has worked in Syrian refugee camps in Jordan—attempts to write persuasively from the perspective of a Syrian girl, with Arabic words sprinkled throughout, the book falls short in conveying the cultural setting and authentically representing a Syrian family. Generic descriptions fail to bring Syria and Jordan vividly to life, and the story feels like it could have been about refugees from any country. Additionally, the author describes characters and situations in ways that at times reinforce Western stereotypes. Though Middle Eastern readers may not feel represented, the themes of hard work and family triumph will resonate with many readers. Occasional ink-wash–style illustrations supplement the text.

A heartfelt but disappointing attempt at convincingly presenting a Syrian refugee’s perspective. (map, author's note) (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: March 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5098-2824-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.

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REFUGEE

In the midst of political turmoil, how do you escape the only country that you’ve ever known and navigate a new life? Parallel stories of three different middle school–aged refugees—Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo—eventually intertwine for maximum impact.

Three countries, three time periods, three brave protagonists. Yet these three refugee odysseys have so much in common. Each traverses a landscape ruled by a dictator and must balance freedom, family, and responsibility. Each initially leaves by boat, struggles between visibility and invisibility, copes with repeated obstacles and heart-wrenching loss, and gains resilience in the process. Each third-person narrative offers an accessible look at migration under duress, in which the behavior of familiar adults changes unpredictably, strangers exploit the vulnerabilities of transients, and circumstances seem driven by random luck. Mahmoud eventually concludes that visibility is best: “See us….Hear us. Help us.” With this book, Gratz accomplishes a feat that is nothing short of brilliant, offering a skillfully wrought narrative laced with global and intergenerational reverberations that signal hope for the future. Excellent for older middle grade and above in classrooms, book groups, and/or communities looking to increase empathy for new and existing arrivals from afar.

Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense. (maps, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-88083-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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An endearing protagonist runs the first, fast leg of Reynolds' promising relay.

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GHOST

From the Track series , Vol. 1

Castle “Ghost” Cranshaw feels like he’s been running ever since his dad pulled that gun on him and his mom—and used it.

His dad’s been in jail three years now, but Ghost still feels the trauma, which is probably at the root of the many “altercations” he gets into at middle school. When he inserts himself into a practice for a local elite track team, the Defenders, he’s fast enough that the hard-as-nails coach decides to put him on the team. Ghost is surprised to find himself caring enough about being on the team that he curbs his behavior to avoid “altercations.” But Ma doesn’t have money to spare on things like fancy running shoes, so Ghost shoplifts a pair that make his feet feel impossibly light—and his conscience correspondingly heavy. Ghost’s narration is candid and colloquial, reminiscent of such original voices as Bud Caldwell and Joey Pigza; his level of self-understanding is both believably childlike and disarming in its perception. He is self-focused enough that secondary characters initially feel one-dimensional, Coach in particular, but as he gets to know them better, so do readers, in a way that unfolds naturally and pleasingly. His three fellow “newbies” on the Defenders await their turns to star in subsequent series outings. Characters are black by default; those few white people in Ghost’s world are described as such.

An endearing protagonist runs the first, fast leg of Reynolds' promising relay. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4814-5015-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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