A Poignant Reality, Penned for Middle Schoolers

Refugee by Alan Gratz (2017).

Refugee is the timely story of three children from three different historical eras who must flee their homes and find refuge in other countries. Josef, a Jewish boy from Nazi Germany, escapes with his family on a ship bound for Cuba. In 1994, Isabel and her family escape Cuba on flimsy boats to find refuge from riots and violence in the United States. Finally, in 2015 Mahmoud from Syria is fleeing his homeland which is being torn apart by civil war.  Written in short riveting chapters, Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud’s individual stories are not told in a linear fashion.  This is a genius publishing move to keep readers’ attention while at the same time generating an understanding that although each character is from a different time period, they all are seeking the same thing:  an opportunity to find peace, freedom and safety with their families.

A powerful book about humanity, I found Refugee to be an effective reminder that we are not a world of isolationists. Written for young people, Alan Gratz takes the opportunity to present readers with characters who are relatable and sympathetic.  Time periods are well-researched and character voices authentic. Gratz does not minimize tragedy or consequences. There is death, there is risk and there is loss, but there is always hope.

Review by Jennifer Kendall