A story about friendship, kindness, and adventure that is centered within the refugee crisis.
When Ahmet arrives in the narrator’s classroom three weeks after the first day of school, he is silent and doesn’t join all the kids for recess. Weeks later, and with the help of an assistant teacher, he gets additional support to learn English and understand what’s being taught through translation into his native Kurdish. He gradually adjusts to his new environment and shares his displacement story from Syria to the U.K. and what happened to his family, from whom he’s been separated. With persistence and kindness, four classmates succeed in becoming Ahmet’s friends. But it is when they learn of an approaching deadline to reunite him with his family that they decide to take action immediately. They plot to engage the queen of Britain herself and end up in newspaper headlines and stirring national debate about refugees. Raúf provides well-crafted addenda about refugees, ways to help, and questions to think about, but readers looking for deep characterization will spot great but lost potential in that most of the novel’s are one-dimensional, presenting only as good or bad people, with the narrator’s group of friends (a multiracial bunch) squarely among the former.
An engaging debut novel that simplifies the refugee experience, crisis, and reaction to it for young readers—consider it a starter book. (Fiction. 9-12)