Written by Alan Gratz , Refugee is a well-written and well-researched historical fiction novel about the heartbreaking journey of three young kids: Josef, a Jewish boy living in the 1930s Europe; Isabel, a Cuban girl living in 1990s Cuba; and Mahmoud, a Syrian boy living in 2015. Isabel, Mahmoud, and Josef had to pack their bags, say goodbye to their neighborhoods and to their culture, and leave everything that was certain and safe behind them. They leave all they have behind them to start an unwanted journey toward the unknown. During their journey, they realize that nothing stays still forever; eventually, everything changes. Changes are inevitable and they can only accept them and be grateful for what they still have with them.
Alan Gratz opens your heart and soul to the life of people like us who, every day, lose something important and, in unbearable physical and emotional pain, travel from country to country, hoping to find, somewhere, a kind and welcoming friend and a better life.
Read Refugee when no one is around you because you might cry from the beginning to the end of this book. You might cry tears of joy, tear of anger, tears of fear, and tears of pure sadness. AND that’s okay. There is nothing wrong with sharing wonderful tears with the rest of the world. BUT, you need time and space to let those emotions flow outside you, freely.
Read Refugee with your heart, rather than with your brain. Understand that this is a book that will make you uncomfortable and guilty. Embrace the feelings the book gives you without question them; treasure them. AND, when you are done reading the book share it with others. This is a book that does not deserve to be hidden among other books in your bookshelves.
Refugee is very close to my heart. Even if I am not a refugee, I am an immigrant who had to give up one home and one family for another home and another family. Even if I am not a refugee, like Isabel, Mahmoud, and Josef did, I had to pack my bag, say goodbye to my neighborhood and to my culture, and leave everything that was certain and safe behind me. I had to build new memories and new relationships in a land that was foreign to me. As Isabel, Mahmoud, and Josef, I learned that once you set your foot on a path, you cannot go back. You have to finish what you have started. And often, as an immigrant, a refugee or a displaced person, even if you can go back to your country, you have changed so much you cannot find comfort or happiness in what your life was. Thus, you can only move forward, hoping for the best.
Refugee is for people of all ages. The book does not have explicit language, sexual situations, or graphic violence. However, when reading the book in a school setting, keep in mind that the book does cover complex and emotional issues such as death, survival, suffering, good and evil, peace and war, and grief. These issues are covered with grace and respect. Nonetheless, they are sensitive topics. And be aware that some of your students may have an all-too-personal experience around these sensitive topics.
Finally, Refugee is factually accurate. Alan Gratz does not provide false information about a historical character or period, and he makes clear, in the author’s note, how much he has invented. The true story of the MS St. Luis, the war in the city of Aleppo, and the “Wet foot, Dry foot” policy for Cubans are just three of all the marvelous factually accurate information provided by Refugee. AND, if at the end of the book, you want to help or you want to know more about refugees, UNICEF and the UN Refugee Agency are ready to welcome you and inform you on the current situation and current needs of refugees.
Read Refugee and share it with others. Don’t keep it in a box in the basement. This book deserves to collect people’s emotions and good deeds, not dust.