REFUGEE: Three Harrowing Escape Stories in One

Cindy: Along with one of the best book covers of the year and a moving book trailer from Scholastic, Refugee (2017) by Alan Gratz is a current favorite with my middle-school students and teachers. In this historical novel, three young refugees from three different time periods and countries alternate telling their stories. Josef, from Hitler’s late 1930s Germany, escapes on the St. Louis, headed for Cuba, where he, his family, and 900 other Jews hope to seek asylum. The second chapter flips to Isabel in 1994 Cuba, whose family hopes to emigrate to the United States in order to escape Fidel Castro’s rule and the unrest there. Mahmoud’s story of the bombing destruction of his home in Aleppo opens chapter three as his family starts the dangerous trek out of Syria in 2015.

The chapters alternate in succession between the three stories, and at each cliffhanger ending, I was tempted to read the book out of order by following one child’s story through, then going back and following the next. I admire creative structure, though, and decided to stick with the way Gratz laid out the story. I’m glad I did. The similarities between the three stories as the dangerous flights to safety unfold is just one reason for reading the book in order. This novel puts faces and stories on refugee television clips and news articles, and is sure to increase teens’ understanding of the issues. This book would make a great read-aloud for classrooms, a fine book club choice, or a perfect selection for an all-school or all-community read.

About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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