Two parallel stories, one of a Syrian boy from Aleppo fleeing war, and another of a white American boy, son of a NATO contractor, dealing with the challenges of growing up, intersect at a house in Brussels.
Ahmed lost his father while crossing the Mediterranean. Alone and broke in Europe, he takes things into his own hands to get to safety but ends up having to hide in the basement of a residential house. After months of hiding, he is discovered by Max, a boy of similar age and parallel high integrity and courage, who is experiencing his own set of troubles learning a new language, moving to a new country, and being teased at school. In an unexpected turn of events, the two boys and their new friends Farah, a Muslim Belgian girl, and Oscar, a white Belgian boy, successfully scheme for Ahmed to go to school while he remains in hiding the rest of the time. What is at stake for Ahmed is immense, and so is the risk to everyone involved. Marsh invites art and history to motivate her protagonists, drawing parallels to gentiles who protected Jews fleeing Nazi terror and citing present-day political news. This well-crafted and suspenseful novel touches on the topics of refugees and immigrant integration, terrorism, Islam, Islamophobia, and the Syrian war with sensitivity and grace.
A captivating book situated in present-day discourse around the refugee crisis, featuring two boys who stand by their high values in the face of grave risk and succeed in drawing goodwill from others. (Historical fiction. 10-14)