Refugee
By Alan Gratz
Published by Scholastic Inc.
Age Range: 9+

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This compelling novel will help young people make sense of today’s refugee crisis.
— Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

Description
JOSEF is a Jewish boy living in 1930s Nazi Germany. With the threat of concentration camps looming, he and his family board a ship bound for the other side of the world . . .

ISABEL is a Cuban girl in 1994. With riots and unrest plaguing her country, she and her family set out on a raft, hoping to find safety in America . . .

MAHMOUD is a Syrian boy in 2015. With his homeland torn apart by violence and destruction, he and his family begin a long trek toward Europe . . .

All three kids go on harrowing journeys in search of refuge. All will face unimaginable dangers — from drownings to bombings to betrayals. But there is always the hope of tomorrow. And although Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud are separated by continents and decades, shocking connections will tie their stories together in the end.

This action-packed novel tackles topics both timely and timeless: courage, survival, and the quest for home.

 

Reviews & Accolades
“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.”  —Publishers Weekly

“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. . . . Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.”  —Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)

“[A] hard-hitting novel. . . . 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.”
Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

“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. 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.”—School Library Journal

“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.”   —Kirkus Reviews

Groups Represented
Jewish
Cuban
Syrian

Themes
Building Futures
Cultural Identity
Family Relationships
Family Separation
Fleeing Persecution
Historical
Immigration
Migrant Life
Refugee Life
Religious Persecution
Separation & Reunion
Survival
Trauma
War

Setting
Nazi Germany
Cuba
United States
Europe

Engagement Projects & Resources
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