by Alan Gratz
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International Reading Association & The Children's Book Council
Starred review from May 22, 2017
In this hard-hitting novel, Gratz (Projekt 1065) skillfully intertwines the stories of three protagonists seeking asylum with their respective families. Twelve-year-old Josef is fleeing Nazi Germany on a ship headed for Cuba in 1939; in 1994, 11-year-old Isabel leaves Cuba for the United States aboard a boat; and 12-year-old Mahmoud leaves Syria in 2015 after a bomb destroys his family’s apartment building. Though set in different political landscapes, the harrowing narratives share a sense of urgency, danger, and sacrifice, and the brief chapters keep each story fresh in readers’ minds. Each character confronts exceptional challenges: Josef must behave as the adult when his father returns shattered from a concentration camp, and Mahmoud realizes that the invisibility he cultivated in Aleppo is less of an asset in Greece (“They only see us when we do something they don’t want us to do”). Filled with both tragic loss and ample evidence of resilience, these memorable and tightly plotted stories contextualize and give voice to current refugee crises, underscoring that these journeys are born out of a desperate need for security and safety. Ages 9–12. Agent: Holly Root, Root Literary.
Starred review from June 1, 2017
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)
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July 1, 2017
Gr 5-7-Gratz presents three interrelated stories about surviving. The tales center on children and their families who are driven from their homes by war, violence, and unrest. Josef must leave Nazi-controlled Germany with his mother, his sister, and his mentally broken father (just returned to them from Auschwitz). He sails across the Atlantic Ocean on the ill-fated St. Louis only to be turned away from Cuba and returned to Europe. Isabel and her family live in Cuba and escape on a makeshift raft during the exodus in the 1990s. They flee the repression and poverty of Fidel Castro's rule. Mahmoud, a Syrian boy, and his family seek refuge from the ongoing war and violence in their home city of Aleppo. They board a dinghy in order to cross the Aegean sea from Turkey to Greece. All the entries share elements of hardship, fear, and trauma and stress the power of love, family, and incredible sacrifice. Gratz, who is known for well-written and well-researched historical fiction, doesn't disappoint. His latest is timely and moving. VERDICT This compelling novel will help young people make sense of today's refugee crisis. Meant to be read, discussed, and shared widely. A first purchase.-Patricia Feriano, Montgomery County Public Schools, MD
Copyright 2017 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.
Starred review from October 30, 2017
The trenchant audio edition of Gratz’s middle grade novel employs the voices of three actor to tell the interwoven stories of three young refugees. Actor Goldstrom convincingly portrays 12-year-old Josef, who escapes persecution and murder in Germany in 1938. Listeners can hear the loss of innocence in Josef’s voice as he goes from anticipating becoming a bar mitzvah to becoming the head of the family after his father is murdered. Voice artist Garcia skillfully narrates the plight of 11-year-old Isabel and the Fernandez family during their harrowing 90-mile escape from Cuba to Miami on a boat in 1994. Actor Cohen dramatizes the horror of the ongoing Syrian crises in reading the story 12-year-old Mahmoud and his family, who are fleeing from the current, devastating civil war in Syria. His portrayal of Mahmoud’s optimistic father gives some relief to the grim circumstances that befall the family on their way to sanctuary in Germany. This well done performance is a timely work that will undoubtedly help young listeners think critically about the circumstances of children beyond their own comfortable borders. Ages 9–12. A Scholastic hardcover.
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